Jay Horita is a Youth & Community Engagement Specialist for Northwest Youth Corps, supporting the USDA Forest Service – Pacific Northwest Region. Here, he shares notes from a weekend backpacking experience with Outdoor Asian, a nonprofit whose goal is to encourage and study the participation of Asian and Pacific Islanders in the outdoors.
On Friday, August 30th 2019, eleven members of the Outdoor Asian community from the Oregon and Washington chapters drove up a pothole-ridden and rocky Forest Service road to the Glacier View Trailhead in the Gifford-Pinchot National Forest.
After a hot meal of noodles, we hit the sleeping bags to prepare for the next day’s backpacking adventure.
This trip was the very first of its kind for Outdoor Asian in manyways: the first backpacking trip, the first multi-chapter collaboration event, the first trip occurring in wilderness areas of two public land agencies.
Trip leaders Chris Liu and I spent much time planning a positive, fun, challenging, and educational backpacking adventure for eleven Outdoor Asians.
We deliberately chose a diverse meal plan, which ranged from instant noodles to elaborate dahl and roti from scratch (rolled out on our Nalgene bottles!), to showcase the vast diversity of Asian backpacking food options.
Our goal was to ensure the participants realized they don’t have to give up their culinary heritage on trips into the back country! Thinking back to my early years in back country adventuring, I remember trips where all I ate were dehydrated mashed potatoes and tortillas, so it was great to treat everyone to familiar foods. We even had a rare tea blend, a Yuzu Green tea, to enjoy throughout the trip. The food brought us closer together, helping make the trip feel more like a family adventure.
Besides giving everyone a great backcountry experience, Chris and I also wanted to talk about a range of important topics from Leave-No-Trace principles to Wilderness First Aid. Some even had the chance to practice wilderness first aid by patching each others’ blisters and hot spots!
Our group included seasoned public land stewards, from biologists to district rangers, who shared their experiences working for the USDA Forest Service, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and the National Park Service.
Those uninitiated to public land management got a crash course on the differences between National Forest land (where we started the hike) and National Park land (where we ended it).
Crossing the boundary from the Glacier View Wilderness into Mt. Rainier Wilderness was a special moment!
For me, the ultimate trip highlight was arriving at the Gobblers Knob fire lookout tower, where Mt. Rainier (or Tahoma, one of many Native American names for the mountain) peaked its glacier-covered summit through the clouds.
The mountain was spectacular and humbling. The lakes and meadows we visited were calming. The stars gave us perspective. The wilderness gave us the best backdrop to share our experiences as Outdoor Asians and develop our connection to a life outdoors.
In future trips, we hope to address how all public lands (indeed all lands in the Americas) were cared for by the diverse tribes, groups, and nations of Native Americans; and still are, in many places.
Most importantly, we celebrated our shared connection to the land across all cultures. The Forest Service is, like most things, ephemeral in comparison to the mountain and its landscapes.
Ron Kikel is a bird man. And an ant man. And a wasp guy. Those aren’t his superhero aliases – they’re descriptions of just some of his work as a conservation education specialist for the Mt. Hood National Forest.
But, Kikel is probably best known as the “owl guy.”
Jack is a 12-year old Great Horned Owl. He’s also blind in one eye. Jack was rescued after tangling with some barbed wire, and rehabilitated several years ago by the Rowena Wildlife Clinic, which partners with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to care for disabled raptors and trains them for use in educational settings.
Kikel met Jack in 2010, at a Wild for Wildlife event. Jack was working with his caretaker, Dr. Jean Cypher, at the time to provide conservation education to students. Kikel was doing similar work for the Forest Service, using a taxidermied owl as a prop.
Their encounter inspired Kikel to pursue training to become a raptor handler, himself.
“With taxidermy, you are mostly talking about anatomy. Kids ask a lot of questions about where the bird came from, sometimes it gets a little off-track,” he said. “Show them the live owl, and you have their attention for at 30 minutes, at least.”
These days, Jack and Kikel work as a team to provide conservation education at schools and public events located near Kikel’s “home base” at the Hood River Ranger District in Parkdale, Oregon.
Sometimes, Jack even joins him at the ranger station’s front desk, where Kikel provides visitor information and the owl has his own perch.
“He’s a star. Everyone likes him a lot,” Kikel said. “He’s probably the best coworker I’ve ever had.”
Kikel isn’t just a bird man, he’s also a bug guy. He’s known in the Forest Service’s regional conservation education community for his nature photos, many of which feature dramatic close-ups of the nature he finds around him.
In his prior career, photography was Kikel’s job. He served 20 years in the Air Force, 12 of them as a photographer working in medical research and forensics.
“I worked at Wilford Hall, a big research hospital. So we had an infectious disease lab, dermatology, poison control. They’d want (close-up) photos for teaching, so I took some courses in it,” he said.
Today, skills he once used to photograph scorpions and fire ants for environmental health brochures given to deploying service members are the same ones he now uses to capture breathtaking images of Pacific Northwest beetles, birds and butterflies.
To avoid disturbing his subjects, Kikel often works with minimal gear, often taking photos with just an old Nikon D-50 camera, a manual macro lens, and sometimes a flash.
Despite the seeming spontaneity of this approach, he said macro photography is actually a very slow-going endeavor.
“It takes a lot of patience, because your subjects aren’t going to sit still,” he said.
These days, Kikel said, he considers his photography to be not his job, but his passion.
But he still finds lots of inspiration at the office.
“Mt. Hood is right outside my window… I can watch it change with the seasons,” he said.
While Kikel credits patience for his most successful shots, he said sometimes a little luck is also required.
He was experimenting with a new camera when he caught a striking image of a Cooper Hawk perched just outside his bedroom.
“I was shooting (pictures of) the birds at my feeder, through the window, and suddenly they all bolted,” he said. “Then I looked up, and said ‘well, that’s why… I’d better get this dude’s picture before he takes off!’”
Whether he’s providing customer service at the ranger station, giving wildlife education talks, or providing tours of Cloud Cap Inn, it’s the interpretive element that drew him to his job.
Seeing the world through a different lens, and being able to
share it, is what draws him to photography, as well.
“It’s really an incredible world, when you see it close up,” he said.
Source information:Catherine “Cat” Caruso is the strategic communication lead for the USDA Forest Service – Pacific Northwest Region’s Office of Communications and Community Engagement, and edits the “Your Northwest Forests” blog. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Sweet Home to DC: The 2018 Capitol Christmas Tree journey
A Modern Day Adventure on the Historic Oregon Trail
Each year, a National Forest provides a Christmas Tree for display on the U.S. Capitol lawn in Washington D.C. This year’s tree is travelling from the Willamette National Forest’s Sweet Home Ranger District, in central Oregon. District Ranger Nikki Swanson is recording her notes from the journey for the Your Northwest Forests blog. To read the previous entries, visit: https://yournorthwestforests.org/category/capitol-christmas-tree/.
November 11th, 2018 Bend, Ore.
A day of contrasts in Bend and Detroit
Today was a day of contrasts. We traveled 80 miles today through the sagebrush, Lodgepole pine and Ponderosa pine in Bend, Ore., to the lush green Willamette National Forest, to Detroit, Ore.
The Bend event on our 2018 Capitol Christmas Tree tour: “Return to the Oregon Trail” was a big one. Really big. What other city has “Father Christmas” fly into their event in a helicopter? And fighter jets doing a low level fly-over? Smokey Bear came in a Forest Service fire engine and posed for pictures with his fans. Carolers caroled in front of the tree in their old-timey clothes.
More than 6,000 people signed the banner and collected their favorite Smokey Bear and U.S. Capitol Christmas tree swag. Gifford Pinchot was even on hand as living history to discuss the beginning of the Forest Service.
Children made ornaments for their own Christmas trees and adults marveled at the size of the tree and how tall it is for a Noble fir. The 2018 Capitol Christmas tree was 82 feet in the wild and was trimmed to 70 feet to fit into the truck.
Everyone appreciated the stunning beauty and creative beauty of the ornaments adorning the top twenty feet of the tree that were handmade by the people of Oregon… a small sample of the 10,000 made with love by Oregonians young and older.
We left Bend feeling invigorated for our journey and amazed at the level of planning and community involvement it must have taken to pull off such a great event.
Farewell, Bend. Until we meet again.
The journey from Bend to Detroit was a path through vastly different ecosystems. We started in the dry high Oregon desert, then traveled through sagebrush and Lodgepole pines into the beautiful vanilla-smelling Ponderosa pines near the city of Sisters, Ore.
Ponderosa pine (Pinus ponderosa) is my favorite tree species. Tall, straight, orange tinged, trunks with branches of long tufts of green needles like nature’s pom poms. The old needles fall to the ground each year and were traditionally woven into beautiful baskets by Native Americans.
One of my high school teachers taught a group of us to make these baskets in the traditional way. I have never forgotten how proud I was to make such a wonderful thing with my own hands without the aid of modern day tools or devices.
As we neared the pass we transitioned into a large area of forest that burned in a fire over 20 years ago. Black and gray snags dot the landscape as far as the eye can see, with bright green firs literally rising from what was previously ashes. Fire is a natural part of the ecosystem. Even knowing this, Smokey Bear encourages humans to be careful with fire. There can be too much of a good thing and as always, nature does it best.
After we left the burn scars we dropped through the majestic green Douglas fir forests. The west side of the Cascade mountains gets so much more rain than the east side.
We arrived in Detroit at dusk. The night was clear and bright and beautiful. This city is much smaller than Bend, but the tree was still a really big deal! It seemed the entire city of several hundred people came to wish us all well on our journey. The mayor was so excited to host us and so excited for the unity that the tree brought to his small town. There was a band and several choirs and peace and goodwill.
Everyone was so thankful that the U.S. Capitol Christmas Tree stopped so that they could sign the GIANT Christmas card.
Detroit, Oregon has been a gathering place for travelers and explores of nature for over a hundred years. The original town of Detroit was moved to higher ground when the dam was built and the lake filled the valley. A few years ago, when there was a drought and the reservoir did not fill, an old wagon and a wagon wheel were found near the stone foundations of the old town.
There is so much history in the canyons and the mountains and the forests that we can’t see anymore, but the remnants are still there for those who know where to look.
Nikki Swanson District Ranger, Sweet Home Ranger District Willamette National Forest
Community members gathered to see the 2018 Capitol Christmas Tree during a whistle-stop tour stop in Detroit, Ore. Nov. 12, 2018. Courtesy photo, The Joy Trip Project (used with permission)
MT. HOOD, Ore. – May 19, 2018 – Mt. Hood National Forest staff, volunteers, and a host of partner organizations angled to get children hooked on outdoors recreation during Hood River Ranger District’s annual fishing derby May 19, 2018.
Nearly 70 children took part in fishing clinics, crafts, outdoors education activities. Participants also vied for prizes in the longest cast competition and for landing the biggest fish.
The Oregon Department of Fish & Wildlife, Oregon State Police (Fish & Wildlife Division), Middle Fork Irrigation District, Hood River Valley High School, Columbia Gorge Fruit Growers, Dairy Queen, Rosauers Supermarkets, McIsaac’s Grocery Store and Starbucks Coffee also partnered with the USDA Forest Service to conduct the annual event.
Mt. Hood National Forest staff, volunteers, and a host of partner organizations angled to get children hooked on outdoors recreation during Hood River Ranger District’s annual fishing derby May 19, 2018. USDA Forest Service photo by Jeffrey Lee; Hood River Ranger District, Mt. Hood National Forest.
Children get “hooked” on fishing at the Hood River Ranger District kids fishing derby at the Middle Fork settling pond on Mt. Hood National Forest May 19, 2018. USDA Forest Service photos by Jeffrey Lee, Hood River Ranger District, Mt. Hood National Forest.
Clockwise from top left: 1) First runner-up of the biggest catch competition. 2) Participants cast lines and wait for a bite at the pond’s edge. 3) Winner of the biggest catch competition. 4) Caught fish being measured for judging in the biggest catch competition. 5) Ron Kikel, a forest information assistant, and Jack the Owl provide an outdoors education clinic for fishing derby participants. 6) Event staff grill hot dogs for the hungry junior anglers. 7) Winner of the longest cast competition with family. 8) A panoramic view of the derby location. 9) “Frank the fish” greets participants signing up at the registration area. 10) A panoramic view of the Middle Fork settling pond, where the fishing derby was conducted. 11) A colorful sponsor recognition banner recognizes organizations that contributed to the event’s success. 12) Oregon State Patrol troopers shared some “fish stories” at story time during the derby. 13) Children paint colorful wooden fish cutouts during the derby’s art clinic.
Source information: Mt. Hood National Forest staff. This story was featured in “Valuing You: An R6 Update,” the USDA Forest Service – Pacific Northwest Region’s employee newsletter, in the July, 2018 edition.