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Behind the Inspiration for Wild in the Willamette

October 8, 2015

 

 Wild in the Willamette is the essential guide to nature in the Willamette Valley. Dedicated to the memory of Gail Achterman, Wild in the Willamette shares Achterman’s love for the outdoors and her desire for people to explore the area around them. Collected history and essays written by local authors are available to those who wish to travel from the comfort of their own home, while ideas for outdoor adventures friendly to all ages can be enjoyed as well. This week Jessica McDonald joins us with a sneak peek providing the inspiration behind Wild in the Willamette and how it came to be.


 


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The Wild in the Willamette Backstory:

 

            Four years in the making, Wild in the Willamette was coaxed into being by a small group of friends of Gail Achterman in her memory. When Achterman, a natural resources lawyer and founder of the Natural Resources Institute at Oregon State University, died of pancreatic cancer in January 2012, she left unfulfilled a dream of creating an outdoor recreation guide to the Willamette Valley that would motivate people to get out and learn to love the land the way she did. Her friends Karyle Butcher and Trish Daniels had soon assembled a small steering committee to produce the book. Jessica McDonald of Greenbelt Land Trust, another member of the committee, recalls that the group “pretty quickly realized that we were in over our heads as volunteers.” Butcher, former head of OSU’s Valley Library and OSU Press, set about raising funds while McDonald, along with Trish and Kent Daniels, and Charles Goodrich and Kathleen Dean Moore of the Spring Creek Project for Nature, Ideas, and the Written Word, started to make lists of potential writers and outings based on watershed council recommendations. They soon hired environmental editor Lorraine Anderson to manage the project and writer Abby Metzger to assist her.

 

            OSU Press had recently published Wild in the City, an outdoor recreation guide to Portland, and the steering committee embraced it as a model. Wild in the City is an unusual hybrid, both guidebook and literary compendium, and Wild in the Willamette aimed to be the same. Drawing on the talents of professional writers and artists in the valley as well as an adventurous group of nature lovers who volunteered to spend the summer of 2013 going on assigned outings and writing them up, the book began to come together. By fall 2013, Metzger was nipping at people’s heels to turn in their submissions and consent forms while Anderson set about giving the write-ups a consistent voice and format. Both women checked facts on the ground, between them hiking every trail in the book, some more than once. Monica Drost, who had contributed a couple of paddle trip write-ups with an accompanying map, fell back on her degree in geography from OSU as she took on the huge task of mapping every outing.

           

            In its monthly meetings, the steering committee watched the book materialize. Moments of jubilation came when Metzger created a Facebook page for the book, more than thirty locals answered a call to contribute to the book, Meyer Memorial Trust awarded a sizable grant to support the work, OSU Press offered a contract, the manuscript was submitted and accepted, Steve Connell sent samples of his design for the book, and the OSU Press Fall 2015 catalog showcased the book.

 

            Managing editor Anderson, a California native who moved to the Willamette Valley in 2005, had been a lifelong hiker and welcomed the opportunity to get to know her adopted homeland better. (She replied “Heck, yes!” when asked if she was interested in working on the project.) She calls working on the book “a deep education in place” and comments that “I have ended up simply awed by the variety of natural landscapes accessible to the public within a two-hour radius of Corvallis.” Most rewarding for her was setting out to find and provide clear directions to some destinations that were hard to get to or to find information on, like Abiqua Falls east of Silverton, Shelter Falls on the Middle Santiam River, and Crabtree Valley, an almost mythic place that’s home to 600-to-900-year old Douglas-firs, western hemlocks, and western red cedars. These treks involve long drives on a tangle of logging roads, which had to be navigable in Anderson’s Dodge Neon to make it into the book. Volunteer Jess Beauchemin submitted a write-up of a hike to Tumble Creek above Detroit Lake, but when Anderson drove the narrow logging road toward the trailhead, clinging to the side of a heart-stoppingly precipitous slope, she reached a washout in the road that had been patched with crushed rock and said “Nope! Not in the book!”

 

            After going back to recheck some of the hiking directions and finding conditions on the ground changed, Anderson says she has realized that “Wild in the Willamette is a snapshot of how one particular people related to one particular place at one particular time.” Just like the petroglyphs left by native peoples at Cascadia Cave or the ruts in the ground left by the settlers’ wagon roads, the book is an artifact of an age. Making it drew a small group of people closer to their place on earth, and the hope is that it will serve as an example for others to do the same in other places on earth. And that it will serve to motivate people, especially those with children, to spend more time outdoors appreciating the amazing gift of natural beauty offered by the mid-Willamette Valley. “I look forward to the reader picking up Wild in the Willamette and taking one small trip to walk a new trail. It might be three miles or thirty from their front door, but each and every step into nature brings a greater appreciation of this place we call home.”

 

Wild in the Willamette will be released in November 2015. All proceeds from the publication will be directed to Greenbelt Land Trust, a conservation organization working on protecting the mid-Valley’s natural areas, rivers, wildlife, and trails. More info: www.greenbeltlandtrust.org.

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