The first total solar eclipse to cross the U.S. from coast to coast in almost a century occurred today (August 21, 2017). It was a must-see event. In my home town of Eugene, Oregon, the obscuration (amount of the sun’s disk that’s obscured by the moon) was 99.3%. We were geographically about 40 miles south of the shadow’s extent for complete darkness, but our location did not disappoint. Below are four photos, taken with my camera, showing the progression of the moon crossing in front of the sun’s disk.
A total eclipse is a phenomenal natural spectacle. To us humans both objects appear to be the same size in the sky, this is because our star (the Sun) is 400 times wider than the moon and it is 400 times farther away from Earth than the moon. Even in the cosmos such a splended match up of size and distance for intelligent life to observe is likely a rare occurrence.
This composite photo shows the trees and valley thirty minutes prior to (left) and at the height the eclipse (right). During this time the sky became very dark and there were no bird sounds. The temperature also dropped 15 to 20 degrees Fahrenheit!
From my vantage, I could see about 20 miles south and about 40 miles north. The northern view was dark, the southern direction was sunny; in between this gulf of sixty miles was a gradient between the darkness and light. My wow moment was realizing that such an immense shadow, and on such a grand scale was made by the moon which is indeed very, very big.
Leader: Mark Hougardy | Company: Road Scholar | Dates: Three trips, July-August, 2017 | Participants: 15-25 per group | Type: 6-days of field outings and motorcoach travel in western Oregon
<I enjoyed leading this Road Scholar trip for grandparents and grandchildren. It was a fun and educational opportunity for different generations to share time together exploring the world of animals. For my programs, I wanted to create a mentoring environment where, at the end of the program, everyone who is young at heart would think of themselves as a beginning zoologist. A zoologist is a curious person (a scientist) who loves to learn about animals and everything they can teach us.
Understanding how animals move is a basic feature of tracking. When you start to see “the story” written upon the ground you see patterns, infer distances, visualize speed, and even what type of animal made the tracks. Recognizing the gait – the animal’s manner of walking– is key to knowing the story. Here is a simple PDF I developed called, “Getting to Know Track Patterns” to use in the field. I use when I’m interacting with kids (and adults too). It helps to have someone demonstrate these gaits on all fours to visualize the gait. Then try to walk that way for yourself.
Leader: Mark Hougardy
Group: Obsidians (met ONDA on site)
Dates: May 22, 2017
Type: Weekend Camping & Restoration Work
The Whychus-Deschutes proposed Wilderness is a rugged and beautiful landscape in central Oregon. Driving here requires a vehicle with high clearance and some sturdy hiking shoes for the remaining distance. It is a place of weathered cliffs, cold streams, and rocky canyons. If you have observant eyes you might even see bald eagles flying overhead. A prominent landmark is Alder Springs. The main spring appears to spontaneously gush from the dry ground at an impressive 60 gallons per second. These cool waters flow a short distance into the picturesque Whychus Creek and a few miles further it joins the turbulent water of the Middle Deschutes River. These unique waterways provide spawning habitat for salmon, steelhead, and are central to all life in the area. This wilderness is prominent in fueling the region’s robust outdoor recreation opportunities, tourism industry, and a high quality of life. The Whychus-Deschutes landscape is an asset, yet it lacks permanent protection.
I wanted to find out more about protecting this land so I led a group of fellow Obsidians for an explore. We joined several other volunteers for an extended weekend of restoration work with the Oregon Natural Desert Association (ONDA). During the summer months, this sensitive area can be hammered by an influx of visitors who are seeking their own interpretation of this place. We were there to learn about the natural history, rebuild trails, fix up campsites, and remove some invasive plants that were taking resources from native species.
First, a shout out to ONDA. Learn more about ONDA’s great work and how you can help at onda.org
What gear do other backpackers use? During the recent Backpackers’ Rendezvous 2017 held in Eugene, Oregon, I shared a printed spreadsheet detailing the various systems used by backpackers of all skills levels. Thinking in systems (rain system, footwear system, sleep system, etc.) is important because it can save you time, money, and reduce headaches. Enjoy the spreadsheet for yourself, may it help you better plan your own journeys. Thank you to everyone who contributed! Please note the spreadsheet is legal-sized and front and back. Download the PDF here.
The Backpackers’ Rendezvous helps hikers, backpackers, and anyone curious about the trail to network, learn, and do more with less. I’m happy to have organized the event and contributed to Eugene’s backpacking community.
An evening of rain, wind gusts, and downed trees could not deter seventy hearty folks of all ages and skill levels from attending the second Backpackers’ Rendezvous held at the Obsidian Lodge in Eugene, Oregon.
The first hour included presentations from PCT and AT thru-hiker Chris “Scrub” Burke with tips on approaching a large hike, REI’s Mark “Jar-Jar” Lemaire on researching lightweight gear options, and Mark “Grubb” Hougardy on five tips for starting a section hike on Oregon’s PCT.
The second hour included knowledge tables, pack shakedowns, and interactions with local outdoor retailers and thought leaders, including: lightweight ideas for the big three with REI-Eugene, staying warm and dry with Backcountry Gear; resources for making your own gear with the Rain Shed, staying safe outdoors with the Obsidian Safety Committee, hiking Oregon’s coast with the National Coast Trail Association, and dry food options with Capella Market.
There were multiple requests from attendees asking how to join the Obsidians. One of the best quotes came from a woman in her thirties, “I want to go backpacking and don’t know where to start. I came here to find out more.” Thank you to everyone who helped enrich and strengthen the backpacking community in Eugene.
Science-based conservation is under attack! America’s environmental laws and natural treasures are under assault from the incoming administration in Washington. Laws like the Clean Water Act and the Endangered Species Act along with agencies as the Environmental Protection Agency could be gutted – taking America back to a time when pollution and bad water were commonplace. Hard fought protections are going backwards. I created this to help artwork to help stand up for the environment and protect future generations. The following artwork is available to friends of the park and related outdoor organizations to advance their local outreach and fundraising during these challenging times. The artist Mark Hougardy can help with products that will aid in these efforts. America and its beauty are worth fighting for! – Copyright Mark Hougardy.
Leader: Mark Hougardy
Dates: November 7, 2016
Type: University of Oregon Archives Visit
On this sunny day in November, our small group of Obsidians spent several hours with the original writings, journals, and photographs of a true champion of nature – John B. Waldo.
Waldo was an ardent conservationist, he’s been referred to as the west’s David Thoreau and even Oregon’s John Muir. Waldo was known for venturing into the Cascades, often spending months at a time, and recording his findings of this dynamic and vibrant landscape.
Over the course of his life, Waldo worked as an explorer, legislator, and chief justice on the Oregon Supreme Court, all the time helping to preserve land in the Cascades. He envisioned a protected band of land along the crest of the Oregon Cascade Range that ran the entire length of Oregon. This goal became his personal mission.
On September 28, 1893, the Cascade Range Forest Reserve became a reality and 5 million acres were protected.
Today, we can experience his legacy in the protected lands and open spaces of the Cascades from Mount Hood south to the border with California, that include: Crater Lake National Park, Mt. Hood, Willamette, Umpqua, Rogue River national forests, and other public lands. And in the middle of this grand monument are the deep and pristine waters of Waldo Lake, named in his honor.
Curiously, little is written about Waldo. The judge was a philosophical and reflective person who did not directly seek publicity. But possibly this muted message is part of his larger voice – appreciating the beauty of Oregon is best experienced by hiking on the trails, exploring in the mountains, traveling in the wilderness, and experiencing the (as he wrote) “untrammeled nature and the free air.” Discover Waldo’s story for yourself. The University of Oregon archive is free to use – Knight Library, Paulson Reading Room.
Reference: John B. Waldo and William G. Steel: Forest Reserve Advocates for the Cascade Range of Oregon, Gerald W. Williams
Umpqua and Willamette National Forests
Here are just a few of the photos from his collection:
Leader: Mark Hougardy
Dates: September 10-11, 2016
Hiking 8 miles
Type: Day Hike & Tent Camping
Visiting Big Bear Camp is like inhaling a fresh breath of forest air: it’s invigorating.
That’s me with the apple. The lodge’s owners Hal and Tonia quickly welcomed us as we arrived at their retreat/garden/camp in the woods. Hal offered us delicious Honey Crisp apples directly off the tree to enjoy on our hike. [Photo by Darko]
Our 8-mile hike started up a reclaimed forest road, past cedar trees used by mountain lions for scratching, across the deep ravine where a rope was needed (shown), and finally to a deceptively steep forest road.
After a good heart-pounding climb, we arrived at the “Secret Spot,” the highest location within the Coast Range in Lane County. We had climbed roughly 1,600 feet from where we started but the view made up for it. Looking east we could see 130+ miles in the distance: in the north, Mt Hood, followed by Mt, Jefferson, Three-Fingered Jack, North, Middle and South Sister, Mt. Bachelor, and finally 125 miles further south, Diamond Peak.
We rested, enjoyed some lunch, and then traversed back down the forest road to several turnoffs, and a forest trail that deposited us back at Big Bear. That evening we shared a potluck with neighbors; everyone’s gardens were abundant and we and enjoyed the bounty of harvest-time meals. Later that evening we enjoyed guitar folk music by the fire and enjoyed freshly picked grapes (shown below). In the morning we hung out, explored the local creek, enjoyed the garden, and planned a route for a 42-mile, 4-day backpacking trip to the coast for next spring.
The High Cascades in Oregon are beautiful. While much of this chiseled landscape can be viewed at a distance by zipping around in a car, it is best experienced moving at the speed of human – on foot. By hiking, you can appreciate this terrain using all your senses and see it not as entertainment, but as a necessity. Below is an eight day account of a 100-mile northbound section hike on the PCT from the dry Santiam Pass to the windswept Timberline Lodge on Mount Hood. This hike was powered by a whole-food plant-based (vegan) diet.
Day 1: Santiam Pass to Wasco Lake (10 Miles)
A view of the Santiam Pass trailhead, mile number 2006.9 on the PCT. As my wife and I gathered our gear, we met two sixty-something ladies that started at Crater Lake for a section hike several weeks earlier. These women had already hiked about 175 miles.
The weather was beautiful – if a bit warm – that morning. We were joined by two friends, Jack and Cindy, who drove us to the trailhead and then hiked with us for the first five miles of our journey.
A view of the north side of Three Fingered Jack, a jagged and rugged mountain in the High Cascades that has banded stripes. A PCT thru-hiker stands in the foreground. He was one of about 25 who passed us that day; the oldest being somewhere in her 60s, the youngest about 18, and about half of the thru-hikers were female.
Near the end of our first day, we took a steep side-trail from Minto Pass to Wasco Lake and set up camp. As dusk fell, the sky was pink from a far-away fire. That night elk, frogs, and ducks made noises around our campsite.
Day 2: Wasco Lake to Shale Lake (12 Miles)
A view of Wasco Lake the following morning at about 7am.
We enjoyed a mid-morning break on the shores of Rockpile Lake. Several thru-hikers can be seen on the trail at the left. The two women we met a day earlier enjoyed their lunch and a quick swim on the opposite side of the lake.
Much of our day was spent walking through woods that had been burned several years earlier and were now recovering. In the distance, the peak of Mount Jefferson made frequent and teasing appearances.
That evening we camped at Shale Lake and enjoyed an amazing view of the south side of Mount Jefferson. We ate our dinner and watched the evening light blanket the slopes of this iconic High Cascades peak.
Day 3: Shale Lake to Jefferson Park (12 Miles)
Looking upon a picturesque view of Pamelia Lake from the PCT. This area is a limited entry zone requiring a permit to camp. Our hike that morning was in the forest where we encountered some sizeable old growth trees, and at one point we rounded a corner and surprised a grouse.
Milk Creek has cut a 100-foot deep gorge into the slopes of Mount Jefferson. Several backpackers are seen crossing the creek below us.
Overgrown and green, this is what the trail looked like for the rest of the afternoon. It was also humid and hot, making our progress slower than expected. Occasionally, we would see glimpses of Mount Jefferson through the trees.
Russell Creek pours off the mountainside where it meets a “flat” area for about 100 feet before dropping into a deep gorge; this more level area is where the trail crosses. Earlier in the season the flow can be very strong and this can be a dangerous crossing. Today, though, it just brought about some wet shoes. In this image, a hiker approaches the crossing area. We spoke with her later to find out that she was 18 and was hiking 250 miles of the PCT by herself.
In 2016, the Forest Service implemented a new permit system to camp in the stunningly beautiful Jefferson Park area. We did not have a permit and spent a good two hours looking for a walk-up site. The foresters had done an efficient job of decommissioning non-reserved sites; eventually we found a single site near Russell Lake just as the sun was setting. We were asleep at 9pm, which is considered “hiker’s midnight.”
Day 4: Jefferson Park to Ollalie Lake (12 Miles)
We enjoyed breakfast under this stunning skyline.
The next morning we climbed 1,200 feet out of Jefferson Park. The views were magnificent: wildflowers were in bloom along the trail, and at times it was hard to hear because of the abundance of buzzing coming off nearby flowers.
We reached the trail’s summit and could see Mount Hood in the distance. Descending the slope, we passed several snowfields. For several hours our progress was slow going because of the loose rocks, though the trail soon became forested and we passed a number of beautiful mountain lakes.
Late in the afternoon, we reached Ollalie Lake. Here is a view looking south across the area we just hiked, and in the distance is Mount Jefferson. About two dozen thru-hikers were staying at Ollalie Lake to rest.
We met some new friends at Ollalie Lake:
Darren and Sandy had hiked continuously for 4 months. They were also world travelers that raised geography education awareness by sharing information with students about the places they visit. Their travels can be seen at their site: trekkingtheplanet.net.
Franziska and her family had hiked for 2+ weeks and 100 miles on the PCT, the youngest of her group being her eight year-old brother! Franziska is the founder of hikeoregon.net.
Ollalie Lake has a small store where my wife and I eagerly purchased a bag of sea salt and vinegar potato chips and promptly devoured the entire bag. At one point there were a whopping total of eight stinky hikers in that little store – ah, the aroma of humanity!
Day 5: Ollalie Lake to the Warm Springs Area (14 Miles)
The trail on day five was mostly flat and in the shade of tall trees, making trekking much easier. The forest was drier in this region and water was less abundant than before. When the opportunity presented itself, we filled up our bottles at a small, tranquil trailside spring. The temperature that day was especially warm.
We arrived at Trooper Springs near the Lemiti Marsh area. This was our last water for about twelve miles. The spring was a welcome site although a small and precarious platform needed repair. We were attacked by horseflies; they were numerous, aggressive, and very persistent. Needless to say, we did not stay long.
Taking care of some much needed laundry at the spring using the “Ziplock spin cycle” washing method.
Walking through a clearcut was a stark contrast to the lush forest we had seen all day. Near this area we found the strangest price of trash on the trip: a Howard Johnson’s hotel key card lying next to the trail. We picked it up.
We located a bare spot at the edge of the trail and camped for the night. Trailside camping can look messy, but everything goes back into the pack and we always leave the site cleaner than we found it.
Day 6: Warm Springs Area to Timothy Lake (18 Miles)
We were up early that morning to hike six miles to the next water at the Warm Springs River.
Shown is an old style PCT trail marker that we found, one of the few older versions that we saw on the entire trip.
Crossing the Warm Springs River. It was more a small creek at this point, but the water the clean and cold – a welcome site.
As I took off my shoes I realized just how dusty the trail was that day.
That evening we stealth camped near the trail close to Timothy Lake. During the night we unzipped the tent for a “nature break” – only to be scolded by an owl that repeatedly whoo’d at us until we went back to bed.
Day 7: Timothy Lake to Frog Lake (11 Miles)
The next morning was slow; we woke up late, and it seemed to take forever to get moving. We found a quiet site on the shoreline of Timothy Lake to we rest, take care of some laundry, and enjoy the sun for a couple of hours before continuing.
Several miles down the trail was Crater Creek, a beautiful riparian area with some astonishingly cold water: a welcome find on a hot day. We soaked our feet, took a twenty-second dip (the water was that frigid), then soaked our shirts and put them on as a natural air-conditioner. We made a stop at Little Crater Lake, the source of the creek. Little Crater Lake is astonishingly blue, like it’s larger cousin, but this was not volcanic in origin. Rather, this was a large artesian well. Continuing down the trail, we passed a gravel forest service road and found a bag hanging on PCT post. Inside were some small apples or Asian pears – some unexpected trail magic in the middle of nowhere.
This was our first view of Mount Hood after about 40 miles of hiking – what a fantastic sight.
We took a side trail to Frog Lake for the some water where there was a hand pump that drew water from a well. As we entered the campground we were momentary celebrities answering questions like: “Where did you hike from?” “How many days have you been out?” “Tell me about your gear?” etc. It was an odd but welcome feeling. That night, we camped just outside the campground on a forest road.
Day 8: Frog Lake to Timberline Lodge (11 Miles)
The next morning, we stopped back in at the campground for some water and said goodbye to our new fans. A girl pulled up on her bike. “Good luck!” she exclaimed, and there was a “Thanks for being so inspiring” from an adult. It felt good to hear, but the truly inspirational folks were the PCT thru-hikers who had hiked 2,663 miles and spent six months on the trail.
We made good time that day ascending Mount Hood: 5.5 miles in two hours with a significant elevation gain; we were getting our hiking legs.
Finally, the green of the trees turned to open space and vistas as we passed the timberline. It was windy with twenty to thirty mile an hour gusts that kicked up sand and dust. We wore our sunglasses to keep volcanic grit out of our eyes.
There was an abundance of mountain flowers on the trail.
Close to the Timberline Lodge, the views were fantastic! We could see much of the route that we had spent the past week traversing.
We arrived at the Timberline Lodge, mile 2107.3 on the PCT, and 100 miles from our starting point at Santiam Pass. Inside the lodge, scores of thru-hikers had taken refuge in the common areas. There was access to food and good company, with couches for sleeping and a warm fire to enjoy in the evening. We met some new friends here: Shepherd, Snow, Lonestar, and Patch, all thru-hikers who started at the Mexican border and were resting before their final push into Washington State and Canada.
Looking through the door at the Timberline Lodge onto the Roosevelt Terrace: in the distance Jefferson Peak, and behind it, Three Fingered Jack and Santiam Pass. From the lodge, we were able to take public transit back home.
Date: June 12, 2016
Duration: 3 Days
Hiking 5 miles (1,000-foot elevation loss/gain)
Type: Day Hike and Camping
On this trip, Mother Nature reminded our group of nine that she is always in control, and she reminded two members of our group to remember the tent!
Our original itinerary had to be re-worked because of a late July storm, but the unusually cold weather added an extra element of adventure and excitement.
Everyone arrived in great spirits on Saturday, though we knew that rain was on the horizon. Unfortunately, two members of the group had – in their enthusiasm – unexpectedly left their tent at home. Undeterred by the unfortunate error they purchased a tent at the campground store – for a good deal of course! The skies that afternoon were clear and we made good use of the sun by hiking to Garfield Peak.
On the way we encountered several snowfields, one of which was very steep, but the stunning views from the top were well worth the extra effort in getting there. In the distance Mount Scott was enticingly clear of snow, though we later learned it was impossible to reach because several miles of the eastern rim highway was closed for repairs. Returning down the mountainside we visited the small loop trail of Godfrey Glen where we collected trash that uncaring visitors had left. We collected enough garbage to fill a large bag! That evening we sat around the campfire and commented on the number of stars that were visible, where was the rain? All was calm until 2am when the rain arrived and temperatures lowered to just above freezing. Our two members in their “good deal” tent had a cold and wet night.
Sunday morning I looked out my tent and was excited to see full-bodied snowflakes quietly falling but they only lasted for a minute. Several early risers made a trip to the rim where 3-4 inches of snow had fallen the night before. All of us were off to a slow start that morning. The “good deal” tent had not fared well in the rain and when the drops were shaken off the outer cover a support bar snapped making the tent almost useless. For the entire day temperatures never ventured past the mid-thirties and at times the drippy rain became unrelenting torrents.
We explored the Visitor’s Center, the Sinnott Memorial Overlook (featuring an indoor exhibit room) and the gift shop to escape the fog, wind, rain, and occasional snow flurries. The fog was so thick we could not see the lake or a few hundred feet in front of us. In the afternoon we moved below the cloud line to hike the picturesque Annie Creek trail. Although a short hike it was very picturesque. Laurie and Brad had reservations at the Crater Lake Lodge for dinner, they generously increased their table size to include all of us so we could get out of the rain and have some warm food. About 8pm that evening the sky cleared and at first the temperatures seemed warm. The group campfire that evening had just half of the group, the remainder had gone to bed early. The two members in the “good deal” tent had another cold and memorable night. In the middle of the night I awoke and was stunned by the visibility of the night sky – there were thousands of stars! My tent thermometer showed that temperatures had dropped into the upper twenties.
On Monday the sun returned and the group broke camp, but before we did we waited anxiously for two members to return their “good deal” tent. The two walked stoically into the store and presented their ale of woe to a staff person, when the person said “no refunds” the disheveled and muddy remains of the tent was plopped like a large wet sponge onto the counter for all to see. The act proved its point about the product’s poor quality. Their money was returned. Victorious that two of our members had saved their money (and dignity) we traveled to the rim where we hiked for several hours sightseeing and enjoying the views of Wizard Island. We tried to visit Watchman Peak but the trail was still heavy with snow and the area was closed. Although the sun was shining the temperatures remained in the mid 50s and the wind had a nippy bite, the group tabled Cleetwood Cove for another time, jumping in Crater Lake would be for another trip.
Date: June 12, 2016
Duration: 1 Day
Group: Obsidians: As this was the first visit to a very remote location, for safety, I enlisted the help of Oregon Wild to introduce us to the area.
Hiking 5 miles (1,000-foot elevation loss/gain)
Type: Day Hike
The proposed Devil’s Staircase Wilderness is one of the most remote and inaccessible regions of rainforest left in the Coast Range. This impenetrable area has limited hiking trails or roads and is visited by only a few hundred people a year. Yet it remains unprotected despite the efforts of conservation groups and Oregon’s congressional delegation. To find out more about this compelling landscape, eleven Obsidians joined Chandra LeGue, the Western Oregon Field Coordinator at Oregon Wild, for a day of hiking to the Dark Grove. The Dark Grove has never been logged and is home to ancient trees that are 400-500 years old.
Our caravan of cars departed Eugene and meandered on back roads through the coast range. At one point, the green surroundings were cleaved from our sight as we drove through a wasteland of cut and darkened stumps: one member in the car likened the lifeless land to the desolated area at Mount St. Helens just after its eruption. This sight was a stark contrast to the lush biomass that we would encounter later that day.
About 15 miles northeast of Reedsport, we pulled off the pavement and slowly traveled up a single laned, overgrown backroad. Salmonberries grew in abundance here and scratched the sides of the car.
We parked at a junction and walked down an old logging road that was being reclaimed by the forest. Then we disappeared into the bushes, venturing down an elk trail. Posted on a tree was a sign that told us this was not the path to the Devil’s Staircase waterfall and unless you’re prepared to stay the night, and have Search and Rescue to look for you, to turn back. Fortunately, we had a guide for our inaugural visit.
The so-called “trail” was on loose soil and maintained a direct angle downward at 45-50 degrees. For the next hour and a half, we carefully descended 1,000 feet. Roots frequently caught our feet as we clamored over fallen logs and beneath large trees that had crashed across ravines and splintered. Ferns grew in abundance and they and helped us balance ourselves with their solid fronds. We quickly learned that ferns were our friends.
The weather that day was pleasant and sunny, though had our schedule been a day or two off, our visit might have been plagued with slippery trails.
Finally, the trail leveled out and we enjoyed lunch in an amphitheater-like area of fallen logs surrounded by a carpet of greenery. We saw a shadow over the canopy as a turkey vulture circled far overhead, no doubt curious to see if the humans had lost their way.
A forest of Salmonberries obstructed our path, so we made a trail straight up a ridge, then down into a forest of sword ferns. The ferns stood at five to six feet in height, so they engulfed us all and many of the shorter members traveled with their arms raised straight overhead. These tranquil glens often hid downed logs and it was easy to twist ankles or slam shins.
A fallen giant became our catwalk above the salmonberries, foxgloves, and ferns. We crossed a creek, but could barely see the water because of the thick undergrowth. Scampering down the side of the massive tree, we squatted and crawled through a small jungle, then emerged at the root base of the fallen giant – it was 25 feet tall!
In front of us was the Dark Grove, a cathedral of 8-foot wide Douglas Fir trees. The trees were dark in appearance, the result of fire about 150 years earlier. Touching the bark a charcoal residue was imprinted on fingers. The tree model is Becky Lipton.
Crossing back across the fallen giant, we stood at the base of one of the largest trees we saw that day. Eight people stood at its base, arms outstretched and hands grasped. They counted one, two, three… their calls became muffled as they rounded the opposite side…the voices returned and the loop stopped – at seven and a half people! This immense tree was somewhere between 35 to 40 feet in circumference! Several Obsidians mentioned they felt like kids in a giant outdoor playground.
We continued through the ferns and back again along the ridge (which was unmarked on the Forest Service map). We lost the trail several times but finally found what we were looking for: a small rocky outcrop along Wasson Creek where the channeled water made a small waterfall for us to enjoy. We rested for half an hour in the sun.
The rest of the afternoon was spent returning via the same trail that we had descended earlier, which was a workout! At about 4 pm, we returned to our cars and started our two-hour drive back to Eugene.
This hike was a rugged and demanding off-trail experience, and all of us got scratched and dirty, some of us stung by insects, and one person had a fall (fortunately the ground was padded by an abundance of moss and there was no injury)! I understand why people get lost in this wilderness; even with directions, I could never have found this remote location. The sheer scale of the forest is very disorienting, but experiencing this place at ground level provides clarity as to why it needs to be protected.
Backpackers of all experience levels spread out their gear on the Obsidian Lodge floor to share ideas and swap stories about backpacking. Of particular interest was the lightweight and ultra-light items and how they could help people do more with less. Twenty-five people attended to learn from other backpackers about what stove, sleeping bag or tent might best help them on the trail. Organized by Mark Hougardy. Held April 30, 2016.
Leader: Mark Hougardy
Group: Obsidians: joined by BRING Recycling
Date: April 9, 2016
Type: Day Hike
Visiting the local landfill is not high on a person’s bucket list, but ask this question, “Where is away?” When you throw something in the trash where does it go? What happens to it? What will happen to it?
Roughly 5-miles from Eugene is the County landfill. Visiting such a place is very useful for gaining perspective about our personal and societal use of resources. This was a short, but very educational trip. A handful of curious folks made the trip to learn about the facility’s methane recovery operations, how the landfill cells are designed, how space is maximized via compaction, leachate management (trash juice), wetlands mitigation, and impacts on the Middle Fork’s water quality – a potential secondary source of water for 250,000 people.
The footprint for this site is 540-acres, and the hills will eventually reach a height of 600-feet. The expected “lifespan” for this site is another 100-years; which means we will be putting trash into the ground for another 100-years at this site. That is lot of trash.
Along Oregon’s southern coast is a massive 130-square mile chunk of land that is basically unknown to the larger public. The area is known as the Elliot State Forest Lands, or “Elliott” for short. It is located near Reedsport. I wanted to know more about this place so I joined a group of curious folks for a weekend visit. What I found is a land that is ground zero for contentious issues surrounding aerial spraying, clearcutting, and conservation efforts.
Our group camped at a BLM campground on the northern shore of Loon Lake (shown with the red dot). The lake is 7 miles south of Hwy 38. We made day trips into the Elliott.
This Google map shows the 1.5-mile long Loon Lake (the campground location is also displayed with a red dot) and the general region where we explored. The patches of dark green, light green, and tan shades are sections of forests, tree plantations and clearcuts.
To visit, it’s helpful to have a local navigate the spaghetti works of logging roads, accessible parcels, and trails that crisscross the region. Our guides were from the Coast Range Forest Watch, a grassroots group concerned about the health of forests and watersheds in the Pacific Northwest.
We made a caravan into the forest on the Elliott’s extensive and well-maintained system of roads; we drove over ridges, into valleys, through deep forests, and along barren mountainsides.
After a 45-minute drive we parked near a creek and unpacked ourselves from our cars. I was stunned by the crispness of the air in the forest. Looking up, the trees were long and straight – up to 180-feet tall – like giant infantry pikes lancing the sky.
We visited a Grandmother Tree, an immense giant with a width at breast height of 7-feet. The tree was well over 200-feet tall! The naturalist in the group thought it was between 300-400 years old. Seen another way, this tree is 15-20 human generations old!
Around the Grandmother tree the air was moist, the ground spongy, and the forest floor vibrant with moss and plants. There were signs of elk and bear scat nearby. The temperature was a cool 65 degrees. Sadly though, even this far into the woods, there were signs of discarded beer cans hidden in the bushes.
We visited a large clearcut that had been harvested about 5-6 years earlier. Here the open mountainside was dry, the temperature was in the low-80’s and the ground was hard. It was not a pleasant place.
Here is a panoramic view of the clearcut, Robin from Cascadia Wildlands is shown.
The Elliott is being turned into a giant patchwork of tree plantations, where sections of forest are clearcut, replanted, and then harvested again roughly 40 years later. After a harvest the forest industry wants to protect desired tree species and prevent other species from growing. To do this a toxic cocktail of insecticides and herbicides are sprayed. This happens generally with a helicopter. The mixture is so potent that often only several applications are needed. Current state law states that a 60-foot buffer be maintained, but the law is vague and spraying has been attributed to water quality issues downstream, degradation of salmon habitat, and human health issues.
The left photo shows the composition of the forest floor near the old growth Grandmother Tree; while the right shows the composition of the ground in a clearcut.
Sometime we had to bushwhack and cross ravines.
I was glad to return to Loon Lake where the air was cool, moist, and the forest was vibrant. Also, there was lots of food! The image shows part of our campsite.
We had visited Loon Lake at the end of the season and the campground was still very full. I talked to a ranger who said the area is very busy during the summer, which underscores a point – a lot of people like to visit this region, but only a small percentage of land is targeted for recreation. Recreation could be really big as a revenue generator, but are people open to the idea?
I had an opportunity to measure this during one of the outings. Coming down the path were 2 camouflaged men, they had been bow hunting and looked like they just stepped out of a Cabelas advertisement. Everyone said hello as people do when they see someone on the trail. The hunters were returning empty-handed and they were a bit perplexed by our presence. Our guide quickly explained that he wants to keep the lands in the public domain so that he and the hunters could keep returning. The men raised an eyebrow when “public” was mentioned; however, they wanted to keep the Elliott a place where they could also visit, hunt, and spend time with their families. The encounter was an interesting exchange and hinted at a grand relationship that might just keep this land protected in such a way that allows multiple parties to profit, not just one industry.
Why is the Elliott a hot zone for so many interests? It’s complicated. Back in the early 1970s Oregon passed the “Oregon Forest Practices Act,” a law that provided protection for soil, air, water, fish, wildlife and forest resources. The law has changed little in 40 years, yet the scientific understanding and economics of timber have evolved. Surrounding states have enacted laws that provide for a longer-term vision of forests, the idea being that forests should provide jobs, resources, and recreation for today, and for our children. In the meantime, Oregon’s private companies have fought hard to prevent any changes to this outdated law, including working hard to affect public perceptions about logging. Further complicating matters are taxation dollars, received from timber harvests, which are tied to the general education fund.
Timber businesses in the Elliott (and their investors) see clearcuts as an effective method to maximize the return on a business model. They don’t want government interference because it can be slow, costly, and a headache – I get that. But, timber companies are not being their Brother’s Keeper. When neighbors are unable to make a living because of water pollution, when salmon habitat that supports the local fishing industry is significantly diminished by sediment runoff, and when communities are impacted because of spraying, something is wrong.
The issue in the Elliott is not about harvesting trees; our society needs trees to build homes and schools, and to use in trade. The issue is not about loggers; loggers are hard-working people putting food on the table for their families. It’s not just about hunters who hunt on the land, or anglers that fish in the streams, or those who want to conserve old growth and this amazing ecosystem. On the contrary, it’s about all of these things working together. The Elliott is a vibrant location with a rich natural heritage that should be honored with protection while allowing businesses with a long-term vision to both profit and support local communities.
As someone who advocates for the outdoors I would love to revisit the Elliott for camping, hiking, even backpacking. The Elliott is home to some giant-sized trees, some much larger than the Grandmother tree shown in this article. I would love to see those trees, and would be happy to spend my recreation dollars in this region.
Find Out More:
If you’re interested in visiting the Elliott with your group, or want additional information, contact the Coast Range Forest Watch for more information.
City Club of Eugene. “What Fate For The Elliott State Forest” (1 hour)
Background on the Issue:
Pacific Rivers. “Behind the Emerald Curtain”
See what’s happening on Oregon’s private timberlands, and how it’s harming our rivers, water, air, and communities.
An Oregon Wild map showing the old-growth forests in the Elliott:
Aerial spraying issues-
The Oregonian. “How average Oregonians challenged the timber industry – and lost”
Different viewpoints on aerial spraying-
Leader: Mark Hougardy
Group: Obsidians: joined by BRING Recycling
Date: October 27, 2015
Type: Day Hike
Our trip to the landfill was cut short because of gunfire in the vicinity. We left the area immediately. Apparently, a state-licensed trapper was on top of the 250-foot trash hill shooting birds considered to be a nuisance. The BRING representative, who was guiding our trip, was not happy because there was a breakdown in communications. Our trip had apparently uncovered a major hole in the landfill’s processes concerning visitors, signage, and contractors with firearms using the site. This has been resolved and I will be re-scheduling another visit to see everything that we missed.
Big timber wants you to believe that clearcutting, spraying toxic chemicals, and shipping logs overseas are good for the state. The industry manipulates public perceptions to get around voters who want clean water, healthy forests, and a long-term economic vision. This is done through the art of persuasion.
Here’s one example. The book is the Oregon Forest Protection Laws: An Illustrated Manual, it is published by the Oregon Forest Resources Institute (OFRI). The book is an easy to use, visual instructional guide and is “the standard reference for those planning and executing timber harvests.”* OFRI is an organization that receives its funding from a volume-based harvest tax paid by timber companies. Critics have said that OFRI is a mouthpiece for the timber industry; supporters say they are just communicating the rules about the Oregon Forest Practices Act. **
Take a look for yourself. Spend a minute really looking at the manual’s front and back covers, the back cover is seen on the left.
What do you see?
What do they want you to see?
How do you feel?
The heavy machinery is easy to spot. Did you notice the helicopter, or the clearcut being replanted as a monocrop? What about the cute forest animals hidden among the tress? The aerial perspective reveals a landscape where nature appears to be assisted by human activities.
This manual is more than simply communicating timber rules with cute artwork, it’s a high-dollar marketing publication that includes vibrant colors, professional layouts, and extensively uses hand drawn images. There’s a reason why these simple designs, accentuated with a watercolor technique, in a three-dimensional birds-eye-view, pictorial map are used on this manual. The artwork is the hook. The artwork suggests: authenticity, simplicity, good character, beauty, freshness, wholesomeness, and it even whispers about adventure. This imagery implies the message is genuine.
People relax and let their guard down when they believe something is genuine. Tourist boards use this style of artwork on visitor maps for towns and cities to comfort people so they feel safe and will spend money. Disney also uses this style of artwork on their location maps. Disney’s marketers are unparalleled masters of generating revenue by perpetuating a fantasy experience; this is done with functionality while weaving in elements of excitement, novelty, and escapism.
It’s no accident that big timber uses imagery refined by the tourism and entertainment industries. Influencing the public is about crafting a feeling in the heart, and what the heart believes the mind follows – perception becomes reality.
The Oregon Forest Protection Laws: An Illustrated Manual was created to influence and perpetuate public perceptions that big timber is a genuine steward of the land. The public is less likely to want answers about clean water, aerial spraying, or ask why all the forests are gone when their feelings have already been quietly influenced through the art of persuasion.
* Oregon Forest Protection Laws: An Illustrated Manual
** Willamette Week. “Logrolling: The timber industry is mighty in Oregon—thanks to tax dollars it spends on ads.” http://www.wweek.com/portland/article-25348-logrolling.html
In the fall of 2015 I pursued an opportunity with Oregon Wild as a Conservation and Outreach Intern. I could not resist as it folded well into my professional background in marketing and passion for conservation. Oregon Wild is a premier organization helping to protect and restore Oregon’s wildlands, wildlife, and waters as an enduring legacy for all Oregonians. I helped to organize language and data for 180 suggested public outings for the website, proposed a new flier layout, reported on website link cleanup, organized and managed volunteers for a public event where 200 new high-quality leads were gathered, participated on an annual Coast Range forest gathering with other stakeholders, assisted with a weekend trip to the Elliott State Forest to learn about protecting some of the last remaining old growth, and provided feedback on a proposed marketing and communications strategy for the organization. It was a great opportunity and I encourage others to apply.
Prospective employees are a nonprofits most important audience – even more important than donors. Why? This group of people is genuinely excited about what your organization does. And they want to work for you – to help you succeed. Dismiss or treat them badly at your own peril. Applicants understand they might not be selected for a position, but they do want their time and efforts acknowledged. Here are 2 simple steps that can help –
Respect the Applicant’s Time on the Front End
Set expectations that you respect an applicant’s time up front. Give them information about how long the effort might take and when you plan on making a decision. If you’re not able to respond to each applicant, say that. Doing so shows professionalism, and allows the job seeker to move on after a specific date. Here’s some sample text to use on your website or the job description:
“We anticipate a high number of applicants for this position and we will not be able to respond to each application. We will be contacting first-round applicants the week of [date] to conduct initial phone interviews. We understand that your time is important and we thank everyone for their hard work in submitting an application.”
If the position will be open for an extended time, say that too. If the hiring process will take 6 months, also say that. A little information goes a long way for all involved.
Respect Their Effort
Obviously, not everyone who applies for a job gets the position, and communicating bad news to a number of people can be very awkward. How can this be handled well?
Here is a classy response to a “you’re not hired” situation; it respects the job seekers effort while being empathetic. Responding to applicants with an email might cost your organization 1 hour of time, but what might you get from these people in the long term? I came across this several years ago; edit it as needed for your organization:
I greatly appreciate your interest in private lands conservation and the [Name of Organization] in particular. Including yours, we received [# of applications] very strong applications for the [Name of Position]. Unfortunately, our hiring team has not included your application in the next round of consideration.
I apologize for the anonymity of the response; in the past, I have always tried to contact each applicant with this news directly, but the good fortune of having many applicants makes that logistically difficult for me this time around.
Hopefully, the quick turnaround on the outcome is at least some consolation. From experience I know that it is very trying to be left hanging about a position, wondering for a long time about the hiring process.
I hope you will continue to pursue career opportunities that further the protection of clean water, fish and wildlife habitat, and special lands; no shortage of work to be done along those lines.
Thanks again for your time, the effort you put into your application, and your interest in the work of the [Name of Organization].
[First Name of Executive Director]
This empathetic response leaves the door open for a future relationship by acknowledging the applicant’s time and efforts. It also shows that your organization is run by humans who care about the nonprofit’s mission.
Job seekers want to work for your organization and help your mission succeed – what better group of supporters is there? Don’t undervalue this great audience. Always communicate effectively, if possible at the front end of the hiring process and show empathy.
When I ask conservation advocacy organizations – and I’ve talked to a lot of them – about how they measure the success of their events and campaigns I what to hear numbers. I generally hear that the events were “OK,” or “well attended,” or that they just “don’t know.” I find this frightening because the organization is spending time and money, which they cannot justify. How do they know if their outreach and advocacy is really working?
For $3 and change you can start your organization on path to better information; that is with a crowd-clicker (aka a tally counter).
As an example, last year I volunteered at a local arboretum’s annual festival. Attending were 4,000 people who were ecologically minded and happy to be outside in the rain no less. It was a great audience for the sponsor and the other conservation nonprofits that were onsite. Of the 12 nonprofits I asked about how many people had stopped by their booths; 11 booths had no clue, though some of those groups did have an email sign-up form.
One booth gave me a great answer,
“284 visited her booth, 63 signed-up for the email, she had great conversations with 24 who wanted to come to future events – half of those half wanted information about next month’s meeting, and 8 wanted more information about volunteering.”
It was a great answer that she can take back to her boss and use the data as a baseline for next year’s event. Her secret for knowing the 284 count was that she used a crowd-clicker, and she diligently documented the rest.
At the end of the day I checked in with her again, she had shared her organization’s message with 400 people; that is 10% of the event’s attendance!
I get it, nonprofits are stretched for resources, but do yourself a flavor, get a crowd clicker. Start measuring your events.