March 2015 marks ten years in my tenure with Opal Creek Ancient Forest Center. I was hired in 2005 by what was then called Friends of Opal Creek. The organization was small, but big on ambition and vision, and still fresh off an incredible conservation victory.
I remember walking into Jawbone Flats for the first time as an employee in March 2005. Brian Windrope was the brand new Executive Director, and I was the fresh Program Director. It was a mild winter, much like this one, and it was a quiet morning in Jawbone; there were baby chicks in Cabin 7, the winter crew that year was John and Myra Villella, Ben Gordon, and Adam Mims. The sun was beginning to go down behind Stoney Ridge, but there was still light in the grassy areas. As I sat and soaked it all in, I knew that I had landed somewhere special, somewhere unique, somewhere powerful. What I didn’t know is how I would spend the next 10 years in and out of Jawbone Flats; supporting, directing, and managing the ever changing programs at Opal Creek Ancient Forest Center. We are often asked what a typical day at Jawbone Flats looks like for the staff. It’s really tough to say, there are long, hard days, and there are days where you pinch yourself because you live in this magnificent place, doing important work with talented people. For me, that is true across my 10 years.
Ten years. One decade. Kids who were born the year I began with Opal Creek are now turning 10 and eligible to join us on our Beginning Backpacking expeditions, and students who were 5th graders in an Opal Creek program are now in college! For me, Jawbone Flats and the Opal Creek forest is filled with so many memories from the last decade; watching kids check out the newts in the pond, greeting joyous backpackers returning from a week in the far stretches of the wilderness, shoveling roofs, hiking in from the pavement in huge snow, washing dishes, driving shuttles, sharing this place with so many amazing people from all over the world, sharing in this thing that is Opal Creek Ancient Forest Center.
I am so grateful to be able to continue to serve this very important mission. Wild places and open spaces are my heart’s work. There is very little in my life more important than my relationship with wilderness. The work we do at Opal Creek distills down to a very simple point: we provide the opportunity to develop and grow a deeper relationship with wilderness.
Opal Creek Ancient Forest Center is successful because of the dedication and amazing support of our incredible staff and board of directors. Over my 10 years I have seen many Jawbone crews come and go. I just returned from staff training with the 2015 crew, and it struck me how many of our staff go on to do incredible things, working to help make the world a better place and standing up for the things that matter most. Opal Creek and Jawbone Flats attract top-notch people to its cause, and I must say thank you to the many staff who worked with me over the years and to our very active and engaged board members, without whom we could not do what we do. So, thank you. You all inspire me daily.
Our planet is changing, and the children of today will have some difficult choices to make by the time they reach adulthood. We all have a duty to protect our wild places, which will continually come under threat as our need for more resources grows. Opal Creek serves as such an incredible back drop for the inspiring science education programs we conduct. I look forward to continued work with this incredible group of people, continuing to mold and shape the life-changing programs we run. Hope to see you all in the forest this year!