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.
Yahoo! We’re so excited we’re posting early.
Cottonwood Canyon has lassoed itself a heapin’ helpin’ of Eastern Oregon hospitality. So plan to saddle up, partner. A family festival, “Taste of Oregon’s Old West,” will be held Sept. 12 at Cottonwood Canyon State Park in Gilliam and Sherman counties, Oregon’s newest state park.
“Taste of Oregon’s Old West” will showcase the locally grown food and beverages, recreation, specialty lodging and dining, culture, and landscape of the John Day River Territory of Oregon.
Visitors will have a chance to taste the flavors of the region including honey and wheat snacks, natural beef, microbrews, wine, and fruit. There will also be homestead skills and demonstrations, and information on recreational opportunities such as ranch and cabin stays, agriculture tours, rafting, hunting outfitters, and more.
Regional art and music will be highlighted, as well as horseback rides along the John Day River and a guided hike.
Admission is free; there may be a small fee with some activities.
Established in 2013, the 8,000-acre state park is the second largest in Oregon. Formerly a ranch, it features rugged, steep and scenic canyons carved by the winding John Day River.
Cottonwood Canyon State Park is located on County Road 206, about 16 miles southeast of Wasco, and 25 miles northwest of Condon.
For more information about “Taste of Oregon’s Old West,” visit http://www.johndayriverterritory.com.
But a great way to start the year. Thank you to all 38 folks who came out for the Second Annual Cottonwood First Day Hike. Although the weather was cold the sun was out and the wind was still making for a perfect day to watch the Bighorn and follow the ice flows downriver. We are hoping to offer two hikes next year–so mark your calender for 2016!
Thank you to First Day Hiker Stephanie LaRiviere-Miller for the great pictures. And making up for the forgotten Ranger Camera.
So the last time around I roped a host into writing a blog post. I figured this was such great idea I would continue to pass off my work to others. We had our first Thanksgiving feast out here at Cottonwood with many friends and family. Below is a report of some good friends experience. I have taken for granted the limited email, no TV and limited cell coverage out here. I forgot what a change it can make in an experience. So come on out, unplug and enjoy! For more on a little digital detox this is a great article I read recently.
A Cottonwood Canyon Thanksgiving
Kristi, Ben and family
This year, our little family decided to try something different. We received an offer from our friends to celebrate Thanksgiving out at Cottonwood Canyon State Park so we packed up the car Wednesday and headed out.
From the Portland metro area it is only a little over a two hour drive. It was beautifully scenic. First the drive through the Columbia River gorge to our old stomping ground of Hood River, Oregon where we ate lunch. Then on to Cottonwood where we drove up and over rolling hills planted with winter wheat and wind turbines. My BPA tour guide (aka, husband) provided interesting information into the landscape and the inner-workings of how the turbines create electricity from wind. Unfortunately, I was unable to get any pictures due to the sleeping children in the back of our car.
Upon arrival we unpacked and went exploring. The rustic landscape and quiet felt as though we had stepped back in time and felt awe at the people who had homesteaded here. I have only been to eastern Oregon once prior to this trip but I found a new appreciation for this area. The landscape was beautiful and I could see the appeal of the area.
This was the view from the private residence:
On Turkey day the remainder of our group arrived. Exploring, feasting, and game playing commenced.
Being accustomed to watching football, calling family, reading the newspaper, and being able to get instant information made me wonder how this weekend and holiday would unfold without modern technology. We found it was relaxing and less stressful. It also allowed us to connect with family and friends without so many distractions. The kids (18 months and 3 ½ years old) loved running around and playing by the river and in the dirt. It forced them to be creative with their play and not rely on their toys for entertainment. I felt that being here for Thanksgiving accentuated and allowed us to focus on what was most important in life.
Before leaving on Friday, we took a little hike with the kids. It was the perfect way to end the holiday. We will definitely be coming back to fish in the John Day River at Cottonwood Canyon come the sunny summer days.
Since we haven’t been keeping up on the blog and pictures we thought we would recruit our camp hosts to share their experience out here at Cottonwood. And if you are thinking of hosting please let us know–we need someone in July and August.
Hosting at Cottonwood – Our first hosting experience.
November 1 – 23
Jim Deaton and Elizabeth Daniel
November comes and November goes, with the last red berries and the first white snows. ~- Elizabeth Coatsworth
Beautiful weather greeted us at Cottonwood Canyon the first couple of weeks… Sunshine, warm days and
Jim was a very happy camper-host that first weekend when he caught two wild Steelhead… a 30-inch and 26-inch. Then the river changed… got a bit murky and the fishing slowed way down.
Jim worked with Rangers Ryan, Dave and Tom burning the nasty Russian thistle. As the snow was falling on November 13, they completed the burning.
I worked at keeping the restrooms tidy. It was that time of year when the flies were diminishing but the spiders were looking for someplace warm for the winter. The hiker/biker restroom had one of the largest prettiest Black Widow Spiders taking up residence.
She was a beauty.
I also am working charting the vegetation… shrubs and trees in each of the campground sites. I am hoping to finish it up next week when the snow is gone from the campsites.
We had some wonderful warm fall weather… Saturday, November 8 was a quiet calm sunny warm day. We had a great view of the pretty sunset with pink cottage cheese clouds while we were having wine around the campfire.
On November 12, the weather changed and all of a sudden we were in a snowstorm and dropping temperatures.
Jim and I and the dogs took a walk in the snow out Pinnacles Trail on Friday, November 14. It was absolutely gorgeous. The highlight of the trip was seeing and watching eight Tundra Swans… what a treat.
November 16, the temperature is a balmy 8 degrees above zero. It is cold and there is quite a bit of ice on the John Day River.
On November 17, the John Day River froze all the way across it near the boat launch and at the end of the campground.
We are really happy to have the bright sunshine during the day that almost thaws things out. The sunny quiet days are what makes this canyon in November so special.
The forecast is calling for rain and warmer temperatures as our time here at Cottonwood come to a close. We are looking forward to returning in April 2015.
Jim Deaton and Elizabeth Daniel
Work. Party. And you ask if we are up to our normal hijinks of selling work as a party? Not at Cottonwood where even work is a good time.
Saturday, September 27th; 10 AM to 1 PM
For more information or to register please reply to this post or call the park at 541-394-0002.