May 9, 2007

Smith Rock Spring Thing

More than 80 climbers, hikers, and lovers of the outdoors turned out Saturday morning for the annual “Spring Thing” at Smith Rock State Park.

Now in its 15th year, the Spring Thing is a chance for those who use the park to contribute to its upkeep, rebuilding trails, picking up garbage, and planting new plants to replace trampled vegetation.

Ian Caldwell, one of the coordinators of the event, said he works closely with park rangers and other officials to put together a list of projects every spring. Harsh winter weather and a half a million visitors a year take a toll on the park, and according to Caldwell, the rangers don’t have the resources to do the necessary maintenance.

Fortunately, Smith Rock has a dedicated core of climbers willing to take matters into their own hands. Father and son Bruce and Phillip Scoles are among them.

Saturday morning, the Scoles’ were high above the Crooked River, straining against long crowbars in an effort to dislodge a railroad tie. The tie is part of an aging series of steps that have outlived their usefulness – the trail here is too narrow for two people to pass, Phillip said, so much of the foot traffic ends up off the trail, damaging plants and contributing to erosion. By the end of the day, a new staircase will be built a few yards away, and the old route will be closed off and replanted with bitterbrush, bunchgrass, and other native plants.

The regular climbers have taken it upon themselves to enforce a strict code of conduct at the park, Phillip said. His father agrees.

“If someone were to see someone eat a candy bar and throw away the wrapper, they would be immediately pounced upon by climbers,” Bruce said. “If someone saw them do it a second time, they’d probably be escorted out of the park.”

The upside of this self-policing is that many of those assigned to trash pickup at the Spring Fling had little to do. Joe Pinckney, the owner of Redpoint Climber’s Supply in Terrebonne, had spent a couple of hours scouring the park for litter, and had a bag no bigger than a small loaf of bread to show for it. Most of what he’d collected was small, and had probably been left behind accidentally, he said.

“The only thing that looked like it was intentionally dropped was a paper towel down by the river – somebody’d stuffed it into a bush,” Pinckney said. “But when I went in to get it, I almost grabbed a snake. It was in there, all coiled up, about the size of a dinner plate. Either a rattler or a gopher snake, but I didn’t stick around to find out.”

Those who successfully avoided snakebites or other misfortune and stuck it out all day were treated to a volunteers’ dinner, a raffle and auction, and a screening of a movie about the climbers who first put Smith Rock on the map in 1986.

-- photo and story by Scott Hammers

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