Volunteer work parties: 'We can make the parks the best they can be'

Volunteer work parties: 'We can make the parks the best they can be'

EUGENE, Ore. - Breath steaming in the frozen morning air, more than 75 volunteers gathered on Martin Luther King Jr. Day in the center of a forest. Many wore thick, warm boots, hats and working gloves, and carried shovels or trowels.

Of the many ways to celebrate a national holiday, this diverse group chose to give back to their community by simply digging in the dirt.

Hendricks Park Forest underwent a big makeover.

As a joint project between the Eugene Park and Open Space program and the Friends of Hendricks Park, these volunteers were part of the fifth annual MLK Day of Service at the park, with four projects: clearing away invasive ivy species from trees; repairing and clearing out drainage ditches (culverts); beautifying the area around a central memorial bench; cleaning away another invasive species, Herb Robert (also affectionately known as “Stinky Bob”).

The MLK day of service added an extra volunteer work day to monthly work parties organized by the Friends of Hendricks Park this winter.

Split into four different groups, the volunteers went their separate ways, some with giant pliers to tackle ivy-covered trees and others to fill and then wrestle wheelbarrows of gravel over towards the memorial bench.

“The kind of general core [of volunteers] which we usually get is a few folks from the community, some students from South Eugene High School,” Carrie Karl said, the south region volunteer coordinator with Eugene Parks and Open Space, and head of the project. “Occasionally we get University of Oregon students that will also come out and participate.”

As part of their school day, a group of about 50 students from Emerald Christian Academy came out, with children from grades one through ten working with a buddy system to do service. The many students from South Eugene High School, mostly part of the school’s honors society, used the work to fill in their general service hours.

While Hendricks Park Forest has a strong following according to Karl, with its own stewardship organization, the Friends of Hendricks Park, there are other places throughout the park system that need the same level of care and dedication

“There’s a lot of neighbors that actually come up into here, and weed plants from along the trails that they know are invasive,” Karl said, mentioning one lady who devoted 150 hours a year to picking a certain invasive plant.

“The more we can get people personally invested in caring for our parks and open spaces, the more we can do, the more we can be successful, the more we can make the parks the best they can be,” said Karl.