Once Near Oblivion, Sierra Club Group Now Thrives
By Barry Wulff, Marys Peak Group, Oregon Chapter.
The 2,200 members of the Marys Peak Group (MPG) live in five counties in the middle Willamette Valley and near the coast. The majority of our members live in Corvallis, with another large group in Salem, the state capitol.
Our Group was resurrected from near oblivion in December 1999 when I, as the default Outings Chair, was informed that unless I became Chair and formed a new ExCom, the Group would cease to exist. Within a few weeks’ time, I had hand picked the best and brightest people I knew that had been hiking with me. I sought out individuals who believed in the Sierra Club, would work hard, had money, and had many connections in the community. They were all professionals, a number of them retired. I promised that we would have few face-to-face meetings, and that we'd always strive to be positive.
To have a successful Outings program, we needed money to train our leaders, both in leadership and in wilderness first aid. To raise money, we produced bluegrass and Celtic music concerts and offered one or two major outings a year to the red rock country of the U.S., and to Hawaii. We wrote some grants, and some kind people donated $5 to $1,000 to help us along the way. By 2010, our treasury was nearly $32,000 and we could boast that we were in the black every year. It was necessary to amass the money, because we were aware that hard times would fall upon organizations like ours in the future -- as has proven the case.
In the past thirteen years, we have had volunteers come and go for a variety of reasons; but each time a person left, we have quickly replaced them with someone with greater skills. Our chairs, secretaries, treasurers have always had amazing skills and have been empowered to do the task and with the ExCom’s support. Let’s make it fun. Help is always available. We often have assistants -- members in training.
Communication with our members and the community at large was important. Today, our Outings program is recognized throughout the Willamette Valley and draws a fair number of non-Sierra Club members. We feel that if we get them involved, they will become members. We offer about 100 outings a year -- hiking, backpacking, rafting, kayaking, skiing, snowshoeing, and biking. We occasionally offer tours to local mills and industrial sites and these are well attended. The listed time for an outing is the departure time, and we make every effort to depart on time. We often invite local experts along on our outings to discuss particular conservation efforts. Somewhere around 300 different people participate to give us about 1,500 participations. We maintain an active database of all participations. We have nearly 40 outings leaders. One more special element to our outings is that we frequently schedule an ice cream stop on our way home from an outing.
Another important aspect of our Group’s offerings is our winter evening program nights at the Corvallis library. We host six or seven monthly programs each year ranging from hiking or backpacking in some distant country to local or major environmental issues. We typically have 80 people attending from the community. Our Program Chair who is skillful at selecting topics and excellent speakers manages to keep the evening series booked a year in advance.
Throughout the year we participate in local tabling events to bring our activities to the attention of an expanded community. It has taken us nearly ten years to build a successful Political/Conservation team. The challenge was to find the right person who was up to the task.
In an effort to be positive, we have befriended our county commissioners, local state representatives, and Corvallis City Council members. We have worked with the U.S. Forest Service, Corvallis Parks and Rec, and with Benton County Parks and Natural Areas to repair trails. We initiated and have been active in planting six-to-ten-foot-high trees in Corvallis and on school grounds.
You can tell that I’m very proud of our Group. The culture we initiated in early December of 1999 has strengthened and spread to all of our leaders. To sustain this effort, we try our best to get them together several times in the year to exchange ideas and celebrate our success. Each year, we have a potluck December Holiday Party, with a PowerPoint presentation filled with images of group activities. For our members we have a Summer Solstice Gala at a lovely plant nursery, which typically draws about 100 people. It’s a potluck affair and we provide the burgers, hotdogs and the fixings. We have music, a raffle of donated items, and a special speaker on some conservation message. It’s a three-hour affair. We ask for a $5 donation and have rarely lost money.
Finally, let me say that you can never thank volunteers enough. I produce cards with photos of beautiful places in Oregon. I send them as thank you notes and birthday cards to our volunteers. I routinely have morning coffee or a late afternoon beer with some volunteer. And since my wife says, “For better or worse but not for lunch”, I try to have lunch with a volunteer most every week I'm in town. This summer, I purchased two season tickets to the local semi-pro baseball team. I go to every home game and try to take a different volunteer with me each time. Great for schmoozing. I have spoken here of my own contribution. I’m pleased to say that our current chair and a number of our other key volunteers do the same thing. With our positive outlook, "Let's make it work" and "We'll find the money if the project is worthwhile" philosophy, we have developed a successful program.