Boosting diversity at Oregon State Parks
When Kevin Price talks to kids about conserving natural resources, he starts with a subject they can relate to.
"I ask them, 'How many of you have cell phones?' " he says.
"These are fourth-graders. Almost every kid raises their hand. I say 'Would you allow somebody to vandalize your cell phone?' They get appalled."
"I say, 'Well, why would you allow someone to vandalize or destroy your state parks? These are yours to use.' "
Price, 61, a regional manager for Oregon State Parks, is the only African-American manager in the agency's history, and he plans to retire next year after 34 years. He worked his way up from a park ranger in Eastern Oregon in 1983, when he split his time between caring for parks in the summer and driving snowplows in the winter.
Even without much exposure to the great outdoors as a child in San Francisco, it became one of his passions to provide kids from underserved backgrounds the chance to experience Oregon's natural areas — a goal the agency has adopted and pursued in recent years.
For a quarter-century, Price has brought students from King Elementary in Northeast Portland to the Columbia River Gorge. Two days before the annual trip to the gorge in early June, Price typically comes to Ben Caldwell's classroom and talks about waterfalls.
"Most people don't realize there are block falls like Niagara, plunge (falls), cascading, tiered, horsetail, fan, punchbowl, segmented," Price says. He reminds them that waterfalls can represent several of those forms. "Then I hold pictures up. They need to identify what the waterfall does."
On the day of the big trip, the students start at Price's office at Rooster Rock State Park in Corbett, 23 miles east of the school.
"Most have never been (to the gorge)," Price says. "If they have, they say 'We go to Multnomah Falls, and turn around.' "
Price gives them a tour, shows them historic photos and lets them walk down the steps and touch the river, where they once saw an osprey swoop down right in front of them to grab a large fish.
Then they explore the iconic Crown Point Vista House, which marks its centennial anniversary on May 5, 2018, shortly before Price retires.
Soon it's time to head over to Latourell Falls, where he quizzes them on waterfall forms, and loves to hear their excited responses.
After lunch at Talbott State Park, Price caps the day's adventure with a hike to the Benson Bridge at Multnomah Falls, where the students marvel at the features of the giant falls.
"Of course, they want to hike to the top," he says. "My response is, 'You need to come back and bring your parents back.' "
Some do, he knows, because he's seen them return and greet him as "Mr. Price."
Yet he frequently hears stories about why their parents don't necessarily seek outdoor adventures: "My grandmother said, 'Don't you let no bear get you.' " Or, " 'My mother said, 'Don't you fall off no cliff.' "
The children embrace the adventure, with just a few nerves. "One little girl, I held her hand on the hike; for 30 minutes she wouldn't let go of my hand, but after she did that she was OK," he says.
Oregon State Parks soon will launch focus groups to hear from diverse communities about what they want to see in their public spaces. They'll look at what millennials want — especially when it comes to use of technology in the parks — and how to make the parks more physically and culturally accessible to people of all backgrounds.
For instance, they've found that Latinos and African-Americans may not go to a park to hike, but to have large social gatherings. Having more group areas (and movable picnic tables) might help to that end.
"We need to know what those barriers are," Price says, "and try to work with the community on resolving them."
Camping concierge service
Have you ever wanted to go camping, but don't know where to start?
Oregon State Parks wants to help, through a program called "Let's Go Camping."
A family of up to eight can pay $30 to camp for Friday and Saturday night at a local campsite, with all supplies and gear (tents, sleeping bags, stoves and more) provided.
A shopping list for food is included, and a guide stays with the family during the weekend to show them how to set up everything and feel comfortable.
The guide teaches Leave No Trace ethics, the 10 essentials of safe hiking, campfire and Dutch oven cooking, and may squeeze in some time for disc golf, tidepools, kayaking, hiking, night sky interpretation or other activities appropriate to the location.
The initiative is one of several Oregon State Parks is kicking off to help people of diverse backgrounds enjoy the outdoors.
Reservations are booked for the rest of the summer season, but look for programs to come at oregonstateparks.org.