Southern Oregon University is home to a diversity of majors. With only 16 students, our Environmental Education Masters program is one of the smaller programs at SOU. This year, we have students involved with the SOU Farm, KS Wild, Bee Girl, Rogue Valley Audubon Society, Sanctuary One, and countless other projects my Cohort will shame me for not mentioning. Working to better connect our program to campus resources and the student body, we have begun developing connections with other campus groups.
Two such groups, are the Ecology and Sustainability Resource Center (ECOS) and the Outdoor Adventure Leadership program (OAL). One common goal among our programs is to promote environmental stewardship. If we can’t respect the areas in which we like to recreate, the magic of those places is lost. Having forged relationships with ECOS and OAL through the involvement of our graduate students in campus activities, our program had a unique opportunity to educate students from a variety of majors on a Crater Lake snowshoeing trek. Unable to book a Park Ranger, ECOS and OAL reached out to our Environmental Education Master’s program to offer an ecological talk. Having learned about the history of the Pacific Northwest, Fish and Fisheries, and Invertebrate Biology from Fall courses, we were already well on our way to becoming suitable interpretive specialists ourselves. Delaying my studies an additional day, I took on the challenge of leading an ecological talk. On the ground, the 40 participants would soon learn the history of Crater Lake, the ecology of this unique geological feature and the organisms that inhabit this region.
I was thankful to get some insider information from our very own (former) Park Ranger, Ashley Waymouth. Apparently, February is among the best times to visit Crater Lake National Park. With some 20ft of white snowpack overlaying the giant rim of our hidden gem, it’s another world. A colosseum of jagged edge surrounds the deep blue waters of Crater Lake. To me, it appears prehistoric. To many Oregonians it’s one of the seven wonders of Oregon.
After winding through a beautiful maze of snow in sub-alpine forest, we reached the rim (some 7,000-8,000ft in elevation). Unable to see the lake from our position, participants were quick to strap our snowshoes on, learning a few tricks from the Outdoor Program (run by OAL students). Eager to get eyes on the site for my ecological talk, I set off with the first group of snowshoers. It wasn’t long before we encountered stories along the path.
Immediately, the first group encountered tracks in the snow! With perfectly placed tracks atop one another, at a slight angle, the tracks in view appeared to have 5 toes. Upon further inspection, following the spore up a steep embankment, 4 separate tracks emerged! Four small tracks with rounded toe pads, made their way towards an outcrop of trees. Clawless and less than 1.5”, it could only be one animal… the elusive bobcat! Active in winter, these carnivores hunt small mammals traveling through the snowpack. Few bear witness to their beauty, and we were fortunate to see sign of one.
Further ahead, rippling calls revealed a few robin-sized birds in the distance. This would be a perfect opportunity for our scheduled ecological talk! Only a mile or so in from Rim Village, participants were already sweating. I was, at least. It was a bright sunny day, and many were comfortable snowshoeing in a light sweatshirt or jacket. The snowshoes students had checked out from the SOU Outdoor Program were holding well. If only I had remembered my sunglasses! As we neared a clearing ahead, those robin-sized birds welcomed us to Discovery Point. They were Clarke’s Nutcrackers, a special species in this region. These birds are symbiants with the white bark pine that surround the rim of Crater Lake. White bark twisting, with scraggly branches, white bark pines may as well be the wizards of tree folk. These twisted trees support the Clarke’s Nutcracker with seeds from their cones. Few creatures are able to harvest seeds from their fortress cones. Clarke’s Nutcrackers are able to retrieve the seeds from within the cones and help distribute them. Foolishly forgetting some of their stashed seeds, these forgotten seeds will develop into saplings and form the next generation of white bark pine.
Students were also excited to learn about the history of Crater Lake National Park. Did you know that Crater Lake is North America’s deepest lake at 1,943ft! It’s also arguably the bluest (you’ll agree with me when you see it). With no inflow or outflow from the steep rocky rim that surrounds the lake, it certainly has the appearance of a crater. But this geological feature was once one of the towering peaks in Oregon. Mt. Mazama as it was known, was a large volcano built up by gaseous mounds upon mounds. When it blew some 7,700 years ago, spreading ash and pumice 10 square cubic miles, this massive giant collapsed forming a caldera. Over time, rain and snowmelt filled the caldera forming what we know today as Crater Lake. I could go on and on, and Ashley could tell you countless stories from her time as a Park Ranger… but we’re in graduate school. We don’t have time for that.
After our ecological talk at Discovery Point, Crater Lake. I passed around some pelts and other materials from our Educational Kits that our program checks out to schools across Southern Oregon. Learning comes easy when you’re able to use a variety of your senses, even for college students. This is a technique we have been practicing often in our program. In the end, I received several comments that the ecological talk was among the favorite experiences on the trip. That, and the Newman O cookies that were distributed at lunch.
Written by: Matthew Solberg
Featured Photo by: Ashley Waymouth
Additional Photos by: Sydney Lund