24 August 2007

OregonSAGA CITO at Wallace Marine Park

(Warning: This post contains conservative political views, liberals are advised to use discretion when reading as entries may cause nausea, vomiting, headaches, and a sudden wondering "Hey, why ARE we paying all these taxes?!")

One of the cardinal tenets of geocaching is the practice known as CITO. It stands for “Cache in, Trash out.” The idea is that, as you go about geocaching in an area, try to remove any litter you find, to leave the place better than you found it. Just a little effort by a lot of people can make a big difference.

Periodically, individual geocachers or geocaching organizations hold “CITO” events: concentrated, organized efforts targeted to specific areas at a given time. This concentrated effort requires planning and participation, but can yield a remarkable result in a very short period of time. Usually, the area is a public park, greenway, cemetery, etc., especially an area that is friendly toward our sport. It is a small way of giving back to the communities that provide us a place to pursue our geeky little hobby.

The OregonSAGA group recently held a CITO event at one of the largest parks in the Salem area, Wallace Marine Park. Wallace Marine reminds me a lot of Kennedy Park back in Memphis, which my GOWT friends will recognize. Although both parks are plagued with their share of undesirable activities, this was my first exposure to this type; namely, homelessness and drug abuse.

Kennedy Park is famous for “cruising” by men looking for other men. Wallace Marine is sort of the “catch-all” place for homelessness in the Salem area. (I’ll spare you my conservative Republican philosophy, for the most part, for now, but stay tuned to the blog!). Despite healthy taxation and government assistance programs, and a very healthy network of faith-based shelter activity, a significant number of homeless people still congregate in Salem, in a variety of areas. It’s not just Wallace Marine Park, but the size of the park and the amount of wooded trails, along with the proximity of the Willamette River, make the park an ideal choice for the homeless to set up camp. It is a problem that, for the most part, Memphis just doesn’t have. Oh, there are homeless people in Memphis, perhaps in similar numbers and worse shape than these folks, but bear in mind, Memphis is a city of over 600,000 people, and an MSA of well over 1 million, while Salem stands relatively alone and has about 140,000 people. Having a similar number of homeless as Memphis means a significantly higher percentage of the population is homeless. Part of the problem is imbedded in the institutional history of the city, which I don’t have time to cover here, but makes an interesting study.

I understand that I’m painting with a very broad brush here, but one of the common threads that run through the typical WMP homeless person is a rejection of the available resources that provide other options. Area shelters have rules, and one of the main rules is “no drugs, no booze.” Some just don’t like rules period, but most choose to live here rather than avail themselves of conventional shelter because they have habits that are not welcome in the shelters. One of the by-products of these habits is trash, namely bottles, cans, and more seriously, needles.

So you can imagine my disappointment at having to brief my 12 and 4 year old kids on what a discarded needle looks like, not to pick up ANYTHING without gloves, and try all day to get my 4 year old, who really likes to help, not to pick up pretty much everything he sees. Especially dangerous is discarded clothing, which can have needles hidden in it.

All negativity aside, we had a large group of Cub Scouts and about a dozen geocachers, complete with a City of Salem provided police officer as chaperone. We spent a couple of hours picking up over 500 pounds of trash including two bicycles and a shopping cart! I personally didn’t see any needles, so for that we were grateful! After a brief lunch of chicken, fixings donated by Roth’s Grocery Stores, and some great pizza donated by Garlic Jim’s, three of us headed out into the woods into an area that we were not allowed to clean, strictly for the purposes of documenting, with photographs and GPS coordinates, the abandoned camps that litter (literally) the northern half of the woods at the park. I was amazed. There were areas where trash was just heaped upon trash! Remnants of large camps were found! It was obvious that a large number of people had camped there for some time. There were fire pits, alcoves carved into the hillside into makeshift shelves. One site was so bad and so large that the only remedy I could suggest is to bulldoze it flat, bring in a load of clean fill, and make a tiny landfill out of it! Bizarrely, right in the middle of this site stood an empty trash can; one of the rolling ones provided by the city’s contracted trash collection service.
It still had the serial number on the front, obviously taken from some house or business.

Hopefully, by providing documentation of what is going on out here, the residents will wake up and take steps to reclaim this wonderful park. No one else can do it. Government is not the end-all be-all answer to the problem. Simply ignoring it as long as it doesn’t affect “my neighborhood” isn’t the answer. Providing a “safe” isolated are for homeless people to break the law isn’t the answer.

I’m strongly conservative, fiscally and socially, but I’m not heartless. I never liked the term “compassionate conservative.” I prefer “common sense conservative.” You can’t simply tell the homeless “you can’t be here.” You have to provide alternatives, governmental and more importantly faith-based. American churches has somewhat abandoned the care of the downtrodden to government, one of the few flaws I see in our American society. Simply doing nothing because “there are government programs for that” is unacceptable. Conversely, governments throwing money at these people isn’t solving anything either! The government doesn’t HAVE any money! The only money the government has is MINE, and YOURS, and every other taxpayer out there! It’s time to get rid of politicians who think they are spending “the government’s” money!

But for the most part, the area I’m talking about is not inhabited by people who have fallen on hard times and need a helping hand to get back on their feet. It’s not people who really WANT to have better circumstances, and are willing to put in the effort if given the chance. These are people who LIKE their addictions. They CHOOSE to live here rather than obey the rules of civilized society.

Does someone’s 4 year old have to get AIDS from a discarded needle in the woods before we get permission to clean it up? It won’t be mine! Sadly, we’ll avoid those trails with the kids unless and until common sense prevails and the community stands up for itself and takes back the territory it has ceded by inertia.

No one else can.

Article in the Salem Statesman Journal:

23 August 2007

The 2007 OregonSAGA Great Willamette River Tour

My new home geocaching group, Salem Area Geocachers Assoc., has been hosting their discussion forums on Yahoo! Groups for some time now, although we recently established a phpbb board. A couple of weeks ago, someone mentioned that they were going to make a geocaching float trip down the Willamette River, notably one of the few north-flowing rivers in the northern hemisphere, one upcoming Sunday morning. There are several geocaches along the river that are either only accessible by water, or at least more easily accessible by water. Many folks, including myself, immediately shouted “OOO! OOO! Me, too! Me, too!” There was such a response that the original poster decided to make a geocaching event.

Geocaching.com will not approve events for get-togethers specifically for the purpose of hunting geocaches, so my friend made this a breakfast event. People were free to come only to the breakfast and still be able to log the event. With that approved, we met at the nearby McD’s for breakfast, and then several folks continued on to the float trip. Taking all three of our kids out to eat, even fast food, is a bit of a chore, as is getting up and out of the house at an early hour, but we made it and managed to have a decent breakfast and chat with a few folks before heading out.

There were a few geocachers back home in West Tennessee who also liked canoeing, but I was never able to hook up with any of their trips. The Mississippi river is way too big to safely canoe or kayak, the Loosahatchie has been so channelized it’s kinda boring, and the Wolf is full of snags that would dump a newbie like me, so I was thrilled to get up here next to the Willamette, a sedate little river (except during high water, or so I’m told) perfect for a novice. I may even get my own boat. I’d prefer a canoe, though. Never felt comfortable with a kayak. Somehow I don’t cotton to the idea of a vessel that, when they teach you how to use it, the first thing they go over is how to right yourself WHEN (not IF, WHEN!) you capsize!

In any event, my darling wife was kind enough to stay on dry land with our oldest while the other three of us put out to sea. This small, one man trip turned into a six boat fleet! There were at least 15 of us out there! I had arranged to ride in the canoe with the trip leader, who is 6’ 9” and about 375lbs (goes by the geocaching name KenSquatch). I had never set butt in a canoe before, but I think I did okay for a first timer, though I was as much ballast as anything else. Our four year old, LilSpencersb, rode in the middle of our canoe, and Chicklet rode in a Kayak with another new friend, Dragon’s Passion for Caching. We drove up river about 15 miles from downtown Salem to Buena Vista, after dropping a vehicle at Independence, and finally got in the water about 11:30 AM.

Not too long into the trip, I managed to snap my paddle in two! The jagged end tore about an inch long gash in my right palm. I guess I was gripping it too high with my right hand and trying to push too hard in the water. Seems like we were trying to pass a certain Chicklet-bearing kayak at the time.
The caches we found were pretty standard fare, nothing spectacular, but fun and well-placed. One was soaked due to a substandard container (nothing beats ammo cans, but at least use a Lock&Lock). On the last one, MaryAnn's Island, my canoeing partner decided that my injured hand was not a sufficient battle wound to mark our journey and proceeded to fall off a fallen log, leaving two nice skid marks up one shin and a few other strawberries. It was also at that last stop that we found some solace in a patch of wild blackberries! Back home, they never seem to really get ripe and sweet, so there’s no reward to offset their thorns, and they are nothing but a nuisance. This patch was ripe and sweet, and we left it a little lighter than we found it!

We finished the trip with about a 3 mile section of the river, sometimes with a nice current, sometimes needing to paddle. We had planned to continue on to downtown Salem and a couple of caches there, but by the time we reached Independence, it was 4PM, we were tired and hungry, and just not up for another three or four miles. We disembarked there, where Ken’s wife and mine met us with the vehicles and a van-load of sandwiches I’d made the night before. They were a welcome respite after a long day on the river! (Note to self: take snacks ON the boat next time!)>

[My now-ex-wife] and Ken’s wife Debbie had found 7 land caches while we were on the river, a new one day record for [my now-ex-wife]. Timothy had been a little snotty all day, as he doesn’t like to ride much, but all in all, we all had a great day. The weather could not have been better! While Memphis was sweltering through several straight days of 100+ temps, it was overcast and about 70 degrees for our trip, nearly perfect, even a tad chilly on the water with a light breeze. It was the kind of geocaching trip that makes me remember why I love it, and one I’ll remember for years to come. It was so well received, that Ken says he’ll make it an annual event. Keep and eye out for the 2008 OregonSAGA Willamette River Tour.