(Editor’s note: Spring Thing 2023 is set for April 29. Volunteer registration for Spring Thing is now open but you must volunteer in advance at SmithRockGroup.org.)
More than 1 million people visit Smith Rock State Park every year to climb the steep canyon walls, hike the trails and marvel at the scenery and wildlife.
All those visitors, no matter how careful they are, have impacts on this beautiful natural area.
“A great example is when I started climbing here the dirt in this area was up here,” said Dustin Ebel, President of the Smith Rock Group, pointing to an area at the base of Morning Glory, one of the park’s famed climbing walls. “That much has eroded away. That was a huge problem, so creating these platforms and these fences so we can concentrate people in the correct areas so that gear is not being thrown everywhere is important to protecting the future of this park.”
Spring Thing is one of the best ways for people who love the park to give back and help ensure that the climbing routes and trails everyone loves are available for future generations.
Over the years, Spring Thing volunteers have conducted hundreds of projects throughout the park aimed at stabilizing and rebuilding high-traffic areas, reducing erosion and clearing invasive weeds.
“We get about 250 to 300 people to volunteer a day in April. The main reason most people come is to give back to the park and the community. It gives to so many people: hikers, climbers, birders. There are so many people that enjoy this amazing natural resource that we have. To give back and leave a piece of yourself here that you are proud of just adds to that legacy and to that experience,” Ebel said.
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The idea for Spring Thing originated with a few locals who wanted to clean up the park and fix the trails.
They came up with the idea, started working with park staff and rallied the volunteers for the first ever Spring Thing in May of 1993.
The faces of the organizers and the ranks of the volunteers have changed over the years, but the spirit of the event remains—preserving Smith Rock State Park, one of the crown jewels of Oregon.
“One of the biggest issues is erosion. We hope to create better trail systems so that the hillside doesn’t wash away,” Ebel said. “This area we are in right now is a great example of an area needing some help. All of this is starting to erode down onto the trail. One of the projects this year will be coming up here to help this area to build a more sustainable architecture around what this trail will become. It’s going to help this trail and access up into The Gulley for significantly longer.”
Volunteer registration for Spring Thing is now open but you must volunteer in advance at SmithRockGroup.org. There are no day-of signups. The reason is the amount of planning, supplies and coordination required to stage an event that spreads team leaders and volunteers all over the park.
What always impresses me is how much gets accomplished in one day. Is it because there’s enough hands and good planning?
“I’d say there’s two or three pieces to it. I have to give a huge shout out to the park staff here because they do a ton. Their communication with our group is massive. Our board does a huge amount of planning. We start planning months in advance to make this day as impactful for the park as possible. As usual, we would never be able to do it without our volunteers that come out. They are the most important part. They give us the ability to be successful and do what we do every year,” Ebel said.
Spring Thing begins at 8am at the park and concludes with a dinner, auction, and raffle starting around 4:00 p.m.
Parking passes, snacks, water, sunscreen, work gloves, tools and supplies, and dinner are provided for all volunteers.
“These steps have been replaced to make sure they can stand up for many more years of use. On this hillside you can see how much of this dirt and rock is loose. We’ve built out these terraces. This rock wall right here, every single one of these rocks was carried up from the river trail from volunteers and placed here. The hope is to continue building these terraces down the slope.”
I sense a cross training workout opportunity.
“Yeah. You want a workout? We can help you with that.”
If trail work isn’t your cup of tea, consider donating cash or supplies to the Smith Rock Group—the grass roots, all-volunteer, non-profit organization that organizes Spring Thing.
“I myself have a daughter and I’m excited to teach her about that. She’s three years old and she’ll be out here with the park cleanup. It makes me happy thinking about that. To give that experience to others is extremely meaningful.”