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Discover some of the outstanding Metro volunteers who have dedicated their time to improving the region.
Written for GreenScene by volunteer naturalist Tom Oxley
Earlier this spring, I had the pleasure of leading a dozen or so kindergarten children on the ancient forest hike at Oxbow Regional Park. This walk is my absolute favorite volunteer activity, and I especially like working with the kindergarten-age children because they are so innocent and so easily amazed at all the neat things we encounter on the walk.
The concept of edible plants growing right next to the trail catches their attention immediately. Their eyes widen as they savor for the first time the unique taste of oxalis (green apple) and licorice fern. Mouths fall open when I tell them the osprey nest they see at the top of the tall snag next to the Sandy River is big enough to hold one of them lying down. The discovery of a salamander or snail gathers an instant crowd. To their teachers, the walk is an excellent teaching opportunity, but to their six-year-old charges, this may be the neatest adventure so far in their young lives.
The May walk was my first one for this year and I wasn't much in shape after spending most of the long and hard winter pretty much just sitting and waiting for better weather. The winter's severity (the worst that I have seen in six years of volunteering at the park) had produced some new and unexpected physical challenges on the trail as well; wind bursts knocked down some of the bigger trees like so many matchsticks and the trail itself had changed direction in at least a couple of places. The ground was still muddy and the climb out of the lahar trench was tricky. I made good use of my walking stick.
I feel my most important task on these hikes is to make sure no one gets separated or lost from the group, so I usually ask another adult to walk point and I bring up the rear. On this day that meant that I was very likely the very last person to emerge from the forest into the parking area. As I came out, I paused for a minute to cool down and catch my breath. At my age the ancient forest hike is a good workout.
As I'm standing there, I see this little boy coming across the gravel parking lot straight toward me. He walks up and without any hesitation takes my hand into both of his, looks up into my eyes, a look of concern on his face, and asks "Are you all right?"
Now I don't consider myself an overly religious person. But I do believe that babies and little children are truly angels among us. I know this to be true because I am a grandfather three times over and when I look into my grandbaby's dark eyes I know I'm looking at an angel and I am at peace with the world.
I asked the little boy holding my hand as he guided me to the picnic shelter what his name was.
"Gabriel," he responded.
"Well, no wonder you're such a good boy!" I exclaimed. "Did you know that Gabriel is the name of an angel?"
"I know," he said with almost a sigh of resignation, as if being tagged an angel brought him perks and burdens.
"Six I'm. Six you?" he asked. At first I didn't understand him. Then I got it.
"Oh, you're six years old? I'm 67," I said. "I wish I was six, but 67 is a lot older than that. Do you know how to show your age in sign language?" I asked. I touched my right thumb to my right pinky, American Sign Language for the number six. "Can you do that?" He easily made the sign and I wondered briefly if ASL would be an effective communication tool for hearing kids.
Moments like this, though fleeting, are precious and remind me of why I volunteer. It's a very good time in the life of this old man. Angels at home and where I work!
For David Green, the path to Cooper Mountain starts back in the Smoky Mountains of East Tennessee. As a child living in Knoxville while his father pursued a doctorate at the University of Tennessee, Dave’s family would escape to Great Smoky Mountains National Park to grab a break from the university environment of married student housing. There began Dave’s deep appreciation for the respite nature provided and the value of integrating it into the rhythm of family life.
When Dave and his wife Ruth were raising their family, summer vacations were spent touring the country and exploring the state and local parks along the way. "We travelled across the United States three times with the kids," Dave recounts from his corner office at the law firm of Stoel Rives. "We would camp for one or two days and then stay for a night at a motel with a pool,” he continued. "You experience an area so much more vividly when you’re out in it rather than trying to appreciate it while looking through a car window."
Dave’s passion for being "out in it" led him up the hill to Cooper Mountain for the first time from his then home in Beaverton back in the early ‘80s. As a veteran of 33 marathons, Dave’s weekly 10-mile ascent up through the fog and clouds that frequently socked in Beaverton to the blue sky and brilliant sun at the top of the mountain quickly became his favorite long training run. "Mr. Kemmer was still farming his property back then and when he later died, they started clearing his property for a development. My wife and I decided this is where we wanted to be." They bought a lot and in 1989 built the house they live in today at Kemmer View Estates.
When Metro began purchasing property on Cooper Mountain in 1997 as part of its Natural Areas Program, it was easy for Dave to get caught up in the enthusiasm of the volunteers that showed up on weekends to restore the native prairie and oak woodland habitats. After recruiting work crews from the Kemmer View neighborhood association, Dave was invited to serve on the planning committee and help develop a master plan for the nature center, trail system and natural garden that today is known as Cooper Mountain Nature Park.
"The planning committee represented a number of diverse constituencies, each with an idea of how the nature park could best serve the community," recalls Dave. "I think Metro’s greatest strength was the public outreach it did for this project and how well it worked with all the diverging viewpoints to arrive at a vision that everyone, for the most part, could live with."
Today as site steward, Dave often finds himself answering questions from neighbors and visitors to the area about what’s going to happen with the official opening of the 230-acre nature park. “I know a lot of people would like to see the area remain as it was and I can appreciate that viewpoint. But I tell them if we don’t choose the places we want protected, we’re going to lose them. I’ve always loved Cooper Mountain and going forward, I just see it getting better.”
Written for GreenScene by Metro volunteer Anastacia Libokmeto
Patty Newland fell in love with birds at 12 years old. She remembers the moment vividly. There in front of her, in the ordinary backyard of her suburban family home near Detroit, Michigan, perched one of the most beautiful birds she had ever seen – a cedar waxwing.
She can still recall every detail of the bird. “Its feathers looked more like fur than feathers, and its peaked head, black mask and dotted wings made it look so exotic,” she says. “I thought that it must be someone’s escaped pet bird, so I tried to get it to land on my outstretched finger. It didn’t, but I loved it anyway.”
Not long afterward, she stumbled upon another remarkable bird. As she trudged through the underbrush in a small wood near her home, she suddenly saw it “huddled on the ground” near her foot. Patty and the bird looked at each other for what seemed to her a long time, though it may only have been seconds. In that brief moment, she memorized as many of the bird’s features as she could. Slowly and carefully, not wanting to scare the animal away, she retreated. Then she rushed all the way home and hurried down to the basement where she knew her grandmother’s bird guide would be. It was a bit overwhelming, she says, poring through that book and trying to find her bird without knowing its name. But her hard work paid off. Suddenly, there they were – all of the features she had memorized and still remembers to this day. “Implausibly large eyes,” she recalls. “A very long bill, strange dark markings on its head, and perfect protective coloration in shades of tan to dark brown.” In other words, an American woodcock.
Even these days, though she is busy with a career as a social worker, Patty still finds time to get out and experience the natural world. The difference is she now finds that the best way to fuel her passion for birds and animals is by sharing her knowledge with others. After seeing an advertisement seeking new volunteers, Patty jumped at the chance to help with Metro’s environmental education programs. She completed Metro’s Nature University training classes and soon began leading groups of adults and children along nature trails and on bird walks. For the next four years, she helped fellow bird-watchers identify raptors during the winter birding season on Sauvie Island and led visitors on walks through Oxbow Regional Park’s ancient forest. But some of her most rewarding experiences have occurred while showing groups of elementary school children how to identify and track animals on the trail.
One time Patty was working with a group of second-graders when a deer came zipping by. “They were so excited,” she recalls. “We had been looking at tracks down on the sand by the Sandy River … and I said, ‘Well, we can either play the game or we could actually try to follow the deer.’ Their unanimous answer, of course: ‘Follow the deer!’”
Patty and the kids ended up tracking the deer for over a half mile. “We’d get to an intersection in the path and they’d all look at it and I’d say, ‘Which way did it go?’ and they’d go, ‘That way!’ They’ll remember that for all of their lives.”
Often, Patty says, the adults on her bird-watching tours get just as excited as those second-graders. “Watching them light up seeing a deer for the first time or (seeing) an osprey get a fish or the salmon running … their eyes just light up and they’re all excited. That’s what I do it for. Plus it just gets me outside and I love being out in nature – and when you’re in nature, good things happen.”
I'm just a guy who doesn’t want to pay health club dues,” protests Don McCarty, who shies away from praise for the six years he volunteered as a natural area steward for Metro’s Canemah Bluff property. “It’s just the way I get my exercise. Rather than jogging up and down the street, I prefer to do something that helps me out and is productive for the environment.” While he’s since adopted other sites closer to his home, twice a week Don got a healthy workout, trekking around the bluff with clippers, pruners, a hand saw and a bottle of water and tackling the invasive scotch broom and ivy that had enveloped the landscape.
Over the years Don made a bigger and bigger dent in the invasive species. “It was painfully obvious what to do,” he quips. “You didn’t need a plan. Just attack. It seemed you never ran out of challenges. It was a great feeling to go back the next year and see one-third as many young plants and the next year almost none.” Today, formerly impenetrable areas have been cleared and trails wind through meadows and woods.
Don hopes that more folks will step up to volunteer as stewards for Metro’s natural areas. He reflects, “When I watch people bicycling and jogging over by Oaks Park and I’m doing restoration work nearby, it makes me think that’s a lot of energy going up in smoke. I want to say, ‘Get a shovel and come over here.’ I’d like to see more people turning in their health club dues and picking up a pruner. In an ideal world, more people would be doing something for the environment.”