It takes a special-kind-of kid to endure cheat grass in their socks and dust in their pancakes.
But by the great dust devils of Cottonwood, we had eight of them this year. And they rocked this 8,000-acre canyon land of sage and basalt with some extraordinary park projects.
High school students from Arlington, Condon, La Grande and Boise camped out for five days here in late June and undertook projects in archeology, botany, writing and photography.
“The camp was a really great experience to have because a lot of people don’t have these opportunities; it opens doors for people,” said 17-year-old Andrea Galvin of Arlington “And it is a great intellectual and emotional experience to be away from phones and technology.”
This was the inaugural year for a five-day outdoor school at Cottonwood which featured high school students and teachers earning free college credits via Eastern Oregon University and Oregon Parks and Recreation Department Professionals.
“Both Shannon (Duerdon-Thompson), and I were so pleased with the students involvement and finished projects,” said Arlington High School Teacher Lori McGuire “It was so neat to see it finally come off in such a great way. The river day was perfect and the kids couldn’t stop talking about the entire experience…”
Lori McGuire was instrumental to the institute’s success, able to muster 6 students from the local area to complete the college coursework. She was on the ground floor in designing the program and cannot be thanked enough for her dedication.
Parks Archeologist Nancy Nelson led groups on discovery and interpretation of stacked-rock features within the park. In addition, Nelson took special care to point out best ethics when coming into contact with historic or prehistoric artifacts.
“I really enjoyed being at this institute it was a great way to get outdoors and learn; sitting in the classroom can get really old and boring and this did not. I am definitely interested in coming back next year,” said 9th -grader Rachael Keniry.
Oregon Parks Natural Resource Specialist Noel Bacheller spearheaded a plant inventory in Esau Canyon via beltline transects. Students were able to track native and invasive species through this process and then make comparisons to previous inventories to see if there were any trends. Unfortunately, it appeared that non-native grasses were increasing. But the number of native forbs had also bumped up.
Cottonwood Crossings also brought in a couple of ringers. I mean, inside the shoe, metal-to-metal ringers.
Art Rzasa, an English teacher from Montana who has completed outdoor education programs for more than two decades, brought his magic to the table in writing skills. In addition he sought and got the talented Jeremy Lurgio, whose skills in photography and video journalism were bar none.
The two focused in on both botany and archeology, creating “Not Wanted” posters for invasive species, an “Oregon Field Guide” feeling journalism piece on doing plant inventories, and then two features with students Anakin Welp and Andrea Galvin. Welp narrated a piece on the native American Pictographs and its nearby recent graffiti. And Galvin looked to the stacked rock and its message from the past to deliver a riveting poem.
“I’ve never seen kids that are more interested in what they are doing or adults who are more willing to help them,” Rzasa said. “I hope the institute will continue to grow and serve more teachers and students in North Central Oregon.”
While the program had a strong year, it is definitely still in the development process and much work is yet to be done in developing a sustainable program.
But the effort to give students from rural communities in the John Day River Basin will remain strong. “Students in parks doing projects is a natural,” said Park Manager Tom Peterson. “Who better than the next generation to come and study these beautiful resources and create the layers of interpretation or understanding of them? We need stewards. And they will be the ones to pass this on to their kids.”
The Oregon Parks Foundation is currently working to raise funds for an experience center that would serve as a classroom as well as interpretive center. If the money can be put together, Oregon Parks and Recreation Department has agreed to build 5 cabins and a shower facility to complete a small campus for continuing outdoor education. Those facilities would also be open the public when not in use by school programs. This year, Cottonwood Canyon has held outdoor programs for schools in Condon, Moro, Grass Valley and Arlington, and we hope to improve upon that in years to come. Those who are interested in donating to the experience center should email Oreg John Hoffnagle at John.Hoffnagle@OregonStateParksFoundation.org
Huge support for CCSI has come from Parks via Director Lisa Sumption and Deputy Director MG Devereux, Department of Environmental Quality’s Randy Jones who undertook the Memorandum of Understanding with Eastern Oregon University, OPRD District Manager Chris Parkins, Nancy Nelson, Noel Bacheller, John Hoffnaggle and Tim Wood with the Oregon Parks Foundation, Park Rangers David Spangler and Ryan Bell, Volunteer Hosts David and Heather Cross and Jim and Dana Harnish.
Art Rzasa and Department of Environmental Quality’s Randy Jones, who undertook and completed the memorandum of understanding with EOU, went above and beyond to see this program through, never wavering in their dedication. And a huge shout out to my wife, Peggy! She brought the organizational skills to purchase groceries for a week for 24 people and designed the menus and even found prizes, such as Tums and Red Hots for the chili cook-off!
“I loved this institute, it was super fun and I enjoyed all of the great company. I also really liked how we didn’t have cell service because it definitely changed the experience in a good way,” said Leah Harbaugh.
For more information about the school, contact Tom Peterson at tom.v.Peterson@Oregon.gov.