The 2015 Spring Break Service Trip to Eugene, OR focusing on Environmental Conservation, would like to share their experiences with you! 8 students, 2 student leaders, and 1 staff advisor all spent a week of their break serving, learning, and reflecting in Eugene, working with a variety of great community partners. Here is a log of their time there:
Monday, March 23rd
We woke up super early at 6:45 to eat breakfast and pack our lunches for the day. Then we went to a brief information session at WREN, which is an education-based nonprofit surrounding Eugene wetlands. After, we all went to the nursery at Mount Pisgah for Friends of Buford Park to meet Sarah, the Volunteer Coordinator, where we were briefed on the work of Friends of Buford Park, picked up some waterproof footwear, and talked about our service for the next three days. Like WREN, Friends of Buford Park are very dependent on volunteers to be as productive as they are, which means they are especially appreciative of our help! We then went to our worksite where we split off between mulching and planting native trees and shrubs. Throughout the morning, rain poured freely, thoroughly drenching and chilling all of us, turning the dirt into mud, and making us appreciate the spare moments when there wasn’t rain. After a brief lunch break under a barnlike shelter, we walked to the south meadow, where we mulched some trees and shrubs planted last week and did some more planting as well. Then we cleaned up as best we could and visited McKenzie River Trust for an information session. A special treat there was a huge Alaskan Malamute dog named Bear, who was oh-so-cuddly and the size of the she-wolf Princess Mononoke. Although we were very tired and sleepy from the hard work in the field, the information session was informative about what land trusts do and the different kinds of career paths that can take people to an employee there. Finally, we came back to the church to make a chili/soup and rice dinner. We also discovered a wonderful new drink: mint tea with hot chocolate—a perfect warm drink for a cold and wet day.
Tuesday, March 24th
We resumed working with Friends of Buford Park helping transplant buttercup plants, weed pathways in the native plant nursery, and the pollinating garden. I thought that it was interesting that we were working hard in less than stellar conditions. However, everyone maintained a contagious positive outlook. Seeing our visual accomplishments helped with this feeling of get-err-done-ness. We then met with Beyond Toxics, learning about environmental justice and environmental racism within the Eugene community. What really struck us was the prevalence of toxic waste sites in lower income communities, which are stricken with high rates of cancer, asthma and other ailments. This influences the relationship the greater Eugene area has with impoverished communities, almost creating an “othering” effect, making some individuals such as Beyond Toxics work for the disenfranchised and other community members forget about their importance and fundamental rights to a clean environment.
Wednesday, March 25th
Today we were introduced to the wondrous teasel (Dipsacus fullomum) by Curt and Sarah both employees of Friends of Buford Park. For three hours we toiled: uprooting teasel, hacking at blackberry bush roots, and planting native vegetation (i.e. Oregon Iris, Madia, ect.). With dirt and grins plastered on our faces we headed towards a Voodoo Doughnuts filled lunch (thank Paige, Jessica, and Melanie). After our extended and sugary break we returned to the South Meadows, where our work with Friend of Buford Park began. Here we planted Snowberry shrubs and followed to coddle the base of the shrubs with mulch. Tired but happy from afternoon exertions we crammed into our cars circumnavigated the greater Eugene area; attempting once more to find our way home. Upon our arrival we met with Matt McRae, climate and energy planer for the city of Eugene. Matt took us to a park down town where he discuses reactionary tendencies of society and outlined how best to focus our effort conserving climate change reform. Then we had eggs for dinner….
Thursday, March 26th
We started the day with Friends of Trees, a nonprofit group that works to plant trees in the city. The majority of the group went to work near Churchill High School to weed around preplanted trees and mulch. They also worked to replace and add twine to support trees. A couple others drove around North Eugene to various neighborhood sites where trees were recently planted to add mulch around their bases which helps them retain water. We learned about the different species of trees that thrive in Eugene and about how they are planting drought resistant trees in anticipation of climate change. In the afternoon, we went to Bring which is a nonprofit recycling and reusing center. Our tour guide Bret showed us the Eugene transition center (a fancy name for a dump) and explained how Lane county’s recycling and waste management works. It was shocking how many recyclable and reusable items were in the waste pile. People were having lots of trouble sorting recycling into the correct areas and we saw people dumping soil into the waste pit. Our next stop was the landfill which is massive in size. We stood on a 200 foot hill of buried waste and were told that it is expected to get 300 feet higher by 2088. We concluded our tour at the Bring center which was quite refreshing after seeing waste being buried. People bring old building materials which are sold or made into art for the demonstration garden. After a day in the sun, we went to Yogurt Extreme next to the University of Oregon campus to get frozen yogurt. We relaxed in the sun and explored the campus which had impressive trees and dogs.
Friday, March 27th
Getting up early is never easy for college students, especially near the end of our service trip! But we managed to do it, because we were excited to meet with a nonprofit called NCAP, the Northwest Center for Alternatives to Pesticides. They gave us a brief introduction on what it looks like to work in an environmental nonprofit, and more specifically they shared some of their projects concerning pesticides. One such project focused on how to help save the bees, which are essential pollinators for the whole country, from both large scale and individual perspectives, and they sent us home with resources to learn how to plant our own pollinator-friendly gardens.
We then hurried to Friends of Trees and started the hard work of the day. Between a loud train transfer station and a busy highway, we worked to make a bare strip of grass more beautiful with native trees and plants – with the added benefit of reducing the air pollution from the surrounding vehicles. But the grass was long and tall, or the ground was more rock than soil, which made the work quite difficult! We persevered, helped along by other local volunteers, and then with a pizza lunch generously provided by Friends of Trees. We finished in the wonderfully sunny afternoon, and headed back into town for our final information session of the trip. An attourney at WELC, the Western Environmental Law Center, regaled us with stories of legal cases on everything from wolves to recreational target shooting, and the joys and challenges of being an environmental lawyer. After talking with so many organizations earlier in the week that had been affected by legislation, it was great to hear from one of the people who are directly trying to change laws that cause harm to the environment.
Finally, we were able to treat ourselves to a nice Thai dinner out – delicious! It felt great to relax a little after a long week of hard but rewarding work.