Back in 2000, when the Deschutes Land Trust was only five years old, a few dedicated volunteers gathered to plan educational tours of the newly acquired Camp Polk Meadow Preserve. The developed a tour route and determined the best way to share the human and natural history of the meadow. That year they led a handful of public tours, the following year a dozen. Today that dozen has grown into a successful Walk + Hike program with 100 outings offered each year. The common thread: dynamite volunteers who lead each and every outing.
From April through October, volunteer hike leaders take people to see the stream restoration at Camp Polk Meadow, the birds at Indian Ford, the views of Whychus Canyon and the fall colors of the Metolius Preserve. In the course of a season, they will take more than 600 people (twelve times as many as they did in 2000) to a Land Trust protected land. Attendees come away with new natural history knowledge and, most importantly, an understanding and appreciation of why land conservation is important.
Who are these hike leaders? They are retired teachers, anthropologists, electricians, ecologists or working biologists, land use planners, and geologists who all find time in their busy schedule to volunteer for the Land Trust.
Jane Meissner has been Land Trust member since 2004 and a hike leader since 2009. A self-taught naturalist who taught hiking, skiing, and snowshoeing at COCC for 20 years, Jane was raised in Central Oregon and spent much of her childhood outside learning about wildflowers with her mother Virginia Meissner (of Meissner sno-park fame). Jane leads a wide variety of hikes for the Land Trust exploring wildflowers, and forest ecology, stream restoration, wagon road history, and more.
“Jane is a huge asset to our hike program. An experienced naturalist who knows the birds and the bees, Jane also brings wonderful stories of growing up in Central Oregon before this was the place to recreate. It’s often her hindsight that helps visitors understand why protecting habitat is so important,” said Brad Chalfant the Land Trust’s executive director.
“I like that I may be encouraging others to see the value of preserved land not just for their use, but for the plants and animals. I really enjoy watching people develop an interest in the natural world,” noted Jane. And develop an interest they have! Jane has her own following of hikers that go where she goes because the adventure is so much fun.
While our hike leaders often get all the credit for successful outings, there is another corps of volunteers who are equally part of the success: hike shepherds. Much like their namesake, shepherds volunteer their time to be the sweep at the end of the group of hikers. They also help with logistics, spot birds, relay information, and have even been known to tie shoes!
A retired assistant vice-chancellor from UC Davis, Pat Kearney first got involved with Land Trust hikes as a spotter on bird walks. Recognizing that leaders often struggled talking about birds and spotting them simultaneously, Pat would stay in the back of the group and call out birds she saw and then help nearby attendees locate the bird in their binoculars. She quickly became indispensable to bird walk leaders and the Land Trust began looking for more “Pats” to help co-lead all our bird walks.
“As the years progressed we realized Pat did much more than just call out birds. She helped check-in attendees at the beginning of a hike, kept the group together while out on the trail, and was an extra hand in case of an emergency—once she even drove to find a participant who got lost getting to the trailhead,” said Sarah Mowry the Land Trust’s outreach director. In addition to being “Chief Shepherd” at the Land Trust, Pat has taken the time to become an Oregon Master Naturalist so she can contribute more on her hikes, and she consistently volunteers for events and other projects.