Opal Creek, wilderness, ancient trees, crystal clear streams…these are words I throw around a lot, with funders, with staff, with donors, with board members, and with friends. Each of these words alone invokes thoughts of tranquility, open space, room for the mind to roam and unwind. These are magical words.
In my role as Executive Director, I talk with people all the time about Jawbone Flats and Opal Creek. Anyone who has been there always makes a point to tell me what a great spot we have, how amazing the forest is, how special Jawbone Flats is. Of course I agree, as I know the area so well having spent three years living at Jawbone Flats and eight years working on behalf of and building our amazing programs.
What is it about Opal Creek and Jawbone Flats that has such a unique draw? Why do people remember it for years, always vowing to return someday? How is it capable of producing these life changing experiences we know occur?
For me, and I think for many, it goes back to the idea of wilderness. By definition, wilderness is where the hand of man cannot be seen. When asked to name some of my favorite places in Oregon, I am drawn to those with less people, less sign of man, those that are most wild. I choose remote stretches of river to raft and remote ridgelines to hike, the more remote the better.
It is the end of our winter season in Jawbone. Seasonal staff are starting to arrive and town is waking from its winter slumber. Soon our quiet town will be filled with curious students from all around Oregon, many visiting the forest and our special wilderness for the first time.
I visited our winter staff in camp last week. Often I head to Jawbone after a busy day in Portland, full of meetings and perhaps some tough conversations. As I head up the North Fork Road, the stress of my day begins to slip away and as I close the gate behind me and travel the last three miles to Jawbone Flats, I am reminded exactly what it is all about. Connecting people with this special place, allowing students of all ages to make connections with wilderness that will last them the rest of their lives, and by doing so helping to ensure that places like Opal Creek exist far into the future.
I think often about my relationship with wilderness and what it means to me. I strive to hike outside in a wild setting every day and my vacations take me to even more remote places where I can leave the cell phone and computer behind. Next to my family, wilderness is the most important thing to me. It is the greatest gift I have ever been given.
This season marks my ninth with Opal Creek Ancient Forest Center. I look forward with great enthusiasm to the beginning of our season and the return of our many participants to Jawbone Flats. After fifteen years in the outdoor education field, I know first-hand the effect these experiences have on our youth. I feel so incredibly lucky to be working to help provide them.
Why are Opal Creek and Jawbone Flats special? Our uniquely located site is a window to wilderness, a window to all the magic that wilderness provides. Wilderness is special, for as advanced as our society has become, we cannot recreate wilderness once it is destroyed. We must work to protect it, not just for all the scientific reasons we all know, but also for the human reasons. We need it.