...and just in time, too.
As Tim discussed in this local news article, public lands in the Owyhee saw a great deal of use at the beginning of the pandemic. It was spring, folks were off of work or let go, and spots like Succor Creek State Natural Area became a magnet. Then, the Oregon State Parks closed. All those folks coming to visit then camped in dispersed sites. The unfortunate result of high use and no regulation was dozens of illegal rock fire rings, new roads in sensitive clay-rich soils, and scattered garbage.
The Friends of the Owyhee relationship to Succor Creek State Natural Area (SNA) is as deep as the canyon itself. While growing up, Tim and his family spent countless hours exploring the area. In fact, a beautiful memorial bench to his grandmother (Sylvia Wenke, 11/19/28–12/30/14) rests on the east side of the campground, facing the creek and enigmatic Succor Creek skyline. For me, the very first Friends of the Owyhee trip I participated in was to Succor Creek. In 2016, FOTO held our first Succor Creek Clean-up, and every year since, we have picked up garbage and removed thistle. Even this year, we facilitated a physically distanced self-driven clean-up back in late May.
The first Adopt-a-Park agreement we entered was in 2018. We continued to work there to match our capacity, but it was not until we gained a full-time executive director in 2019 that we could dedicate more time to working with Oregon Parks and Recreation Department (ORPD) on planning. Last January—of course with no clairvoyance of the upcoming pandemic—we entered a new agreement to reflect our growing capacity (adding a second staff!) to invest more time in the park. Jim Hutton, now retired, and Travis Brome—both of the Farewell Bend Management Unit—collaborated in creating great project goals for the upcoming spring-summer season.
And we all know what happened next.
The Oregon Parks Foundation halted all grant processes, with ours in the hopper. The funds that Jim and Travis thought they would have for improvements (work we would help out with) evaporated as the severity of the pandemic led to over 40 full-time ORPD cuts and hundreds of seasonal employee positions were not filled. With the proverbial doors closed, no revenue was coming in. But, of course, there are no doors on parks, so folks kept using (and unfortunately abusing) the facilities. The campground was over-run, boulders were spray painted, and trees were slashed.
Our first course of action was the aforementioned physically distanced Succor Creek clean-up, which was incidentally planned on the same day that Oregon Parks re-opened. Travis, the Park Ranger Supervisor with ORPD, saw our ability to take action and solve problems, so we were asked to help in a big, big way. Though we could not enact our original Adopt-a-Park plans, Tim and I had the flexibility to form a new plan. The park drew up a new volunteer agreement for us to help keep a presence at the Succor Creek campground, to wear official volunteer garb, and to keep the grounds clean. So for the last several weeks, after morning Health and Fitness Hikes or Yoga in the Wild Owyhee, I have been going to Succor Creek with FOTO volunteers, fellow Friends, and/or my own family, all with strict precautions: wearing masks while driving with those I don't live with, keeping unmasked outdoor distance to well over six feet, wearing gloves, and using hand-sanitizer.
One of the primary objectives was to erase the scar of illegal fire pits in the park. We carried off the rocks, scraped away the burned remains and black soot, bagged it to haul it off, and brushed up the site to make it look less conspicuous so that it's hopefully not reoccupied. It is expected that campfires in the campground are inside the nice metal grates on the east side of the campground. While a few—shall we say historical—rock pits on the west side remain to allow folks to still camp there and not build new rings.
We feel lucky to have stepped up when Oregon Parks and Recreation Department asked. It is only possible because of the collective support of the Friends of the Owyhee.
A particularly BIG THANKS to Ashley Thompson, a Friend of the Owyhee volunteer, that helps in the field and in the office!
Neva Castonguay, the author's daughter, also deserves hearty thanks. Her face is twisted in response to the garbage, not the experience. She loves it out there!