A few weeks ago, I registered for my 3rd Smith Rock Ascent, a trail race in Central Oregon at Smith Rock State Park. As I hit the register button on Ultra Signup, I reflected on my past races here and the beautiful area where I will soon be running.
It’s easy to take our natural environments for granted; but the truth is our land—both public and private—is quickly disappearing at a rate of 4,000 acres every day due to development. Our wildplaces are being converted into housing, shopping malls, commercial offices, parking lots, and the like.
Land trusts play a vital role in preserving land where wildlife lives and roams; where we play, run and adventure, or just stand in awe of our surroundings. And now more than ever we need to ensure our conservation footprint is increased, not reduced.
As part of my Small Change Spotlight Series, I reached out to Sarah Mowry, Outreach Director for the Deschutes Land Trust, to learn more about the work they are doing to conserve land for current and future generations.
What does the Deschutes Land Trust do?
The Deschutes Land Trust a local nonprofit organization dedicated to conserving land in Central Oregon. Since 1995, the Land Trust has been working cooperatively with landowners to conserve land for wildlife, scenic views, and local communities. The Land Trust protects more than 8,770 acres in our region for today and tomorrow, including six nature preserves that are managed for the benefit of wildlife and people.
Why are land trusts important?
Land trusts operate throughout the United States and abroad. They range from small groups run by volunteers, to large international groups like the Nature Conservancy. Regardless of size, they share the same purpose: conserving private land for the future. These lands are then conserved in perpetuity—protections stay with the land as the land is sold from one generation to the next. Land trusts are one of the only entities that can offer this service to private landowners.
Land trust protected private lands can then be linked with the larger network of public lands to provide a much greater conservation benefit. The Deschutes Land Trust’s work on Whychus Creek is a great example of this concept. Our land trust worked with a series of private landowners along the creek to conserve those lands for wildlife and local communities. The end result is a protected corridor of land that links to adjacent public lands providing wildlife the connected habitat they need to survive. A land trust’s long-term job is to safeguard the conservation values of their protected lands.
What is your greatest need as an organization?
The Deschutes Land Trust is currently in the final year of a three-year Campaign for Whychus Creek. The goal is to conserve and care for the last unprotected meadows and canyons on Whychus Creek for wildlife and our local communities. To reach our goal we really need the community to step up and speak for Whychus Creek!
Can you share a memorable impact story?
Camp Polk Meadow Preserve outside of Sisters, OR is a signature project that demonstrates the impact the Land Trust can have locally. Slated for development, the Land Trust worked with the owner of Camp Polk Meadow to reconfigure the property and sell the Land Trust the floodplain meadow. The Land Trust purchased and protected the 150-acre meadow in 2000 and began working with the community to return health to the Preserve’s meadows, aspen and pine stands and Whychus Creek.
Our long-term vision for the property came to life in 2012 when—through the efforts of many partners and community members—Whychus Creek was returned to historic meandering paths through the meadow. Throughout the project, hundreds of people walked the meadow on guided interpretive hikes to learn more about this place we all call home. The end result: healthier habitat for fish and wildlife, and a more knowledgeable and engaged community, reconnected to place. Today, Camp Polk Meadow Preserve is a model for community conservation and how we can all work together to conserve and protect land for the wildlife and people that need it now and into the future.
What does success look like?
Success for Deschutes Land Trust is healthy lands that support diverse populations of native plants and wildlife. Success is communities that are closely engaged with the land, that value the natural world, treat it with respect and are invested in its future. Success is a region that, even as it grows, retains its natural attributes forever.
Anything else you’d like to share?
The Land Trust has several great programs that are free to the community—join us for:
- Nature Nights: Come in from the cold and join your Land Trust for free, monthly presentations on nature-related topics January-March. From geology to dragonflies, these monthly talks are a great way to get your nature fix before spring. Nature Nights are held in Bend at the Tower Theatre. This year’s slate of presenters will be announced in January of 2017.
- Walks + Hikes: Get outside and explore your protected lands! From April-October Land Trust volunteer naturalists lead more than 120 free walks, hikes, and bike rides at various Land Trust protected lands. Participants can explore birds, wildflowers, or geology while hiking along Whychus Creek or in the forests of the Metolius Preserve. Land Trust Walks + Hikes are of varied distances with diverse topics. Families with children will delight in a roster of pint-size hikes dedicated to birds, butterflies and more.
Keeping with the theme of my blog, favorite local spot to hang out in nature?
One of my favorite places in Central Oregon is the Land Trust’s Whychus Canyon Preserve. Located between Sisters and Redmond, the 930-acre Preserve includes four miles of Whychus Creek, outstanding canyon scenery, native grasslands, and old growth juniper stands. Visitors can hike a network of trails that provide public access to Whychus Creek, outstanding mountain views, and beautiful spring wildflowers.
I donated to the Deschutes Land Trust in May 2014 as part of running Smith Rock Ascent.
My ask of everyone reading the Small Change Spotlights is to share them, get involved with the organization if you live in the area, or if you’re inspired by the work they do, consider supporting them. The Deschutes Land Trust’s Campaign for Whychus Creek is a great project to get behind.
Where’s your next race or adventure? I encourage you to leave behind a little Small Change in your destination city. The organization you select may be the next Spotlight.