Adapted from a speech by Phillip Hays accepting the 2019 Charles Ross Award, Greenbelt Annual Meeting February 28, 2019
I think of Charlie and Elsie Ross frequently. We are so fortunate to have had them as part of our community, and for their vision. They imagined a “string of jewels” around Corvallis and Philomath—parks and natural areas connected by walking paths and wildlife corridors.
In the beginning, a couple of dozen of us got together and created a “hit list” of open space properties that should be protected. Looking back after 30 years, I am happy to say that the majority of those places have been protected and Greenbelt Land Trust was a key player in those efforts and has succeeded far better than I imagined it would when we started the organization.
Charles and Elsie’s vision, the passion and hard work of all of the volunteers who helped along the way, and Greenbelt staff—have made the “string of jewels” a reality for Corvallis and Philomath.
Where do we go from here? What vision do we have for the next thirty years for the Greenbelt Land Trust?
First off, there are a few places on that original list that have not been protected yet, and we should not forget them.
There are many more opportunities to preserve and restore natural habitats in the Willamette Valley. Greenbelt certainly has a role in those efforts.
We will also face some serious challenges. A changing climate will reshape the region’s ecology and natural areas may be quite different in thirty years than they are today. We need to think about how we will adapt our management practices to the changes.
Perhaps the greatest threat to our natural areas is our increasing population. That was one of Charlie’s worst worries. As other parts of the nation become less desirable many people will want to move here. In fact, I suspect most of us in Corvallis today, did.
We already have a housing shortage in the Willamette Valley. The new immigrants to Oregon are being jam-packed into apartments and townhouses. They will wish for homes and property of their own. They may view our land use laws as obstacles and desire to eliminate them. That would be the death knell for remaining open space.
One of our goals for the future must be to advocate for land use planning and controlled urban growth that protects our rural areas.
One of my greatest concerns is that Greenbelt doesn’t bite off more than it can chew. It is relatively easy to obtain grants and donations to buy key properties. It is much more difficult to obtain funding for stewardship of those lands. One of our prominent local farmers lectured the Lands Committee a few years ago, reminding us that we can’t just leave lands fallow or they will be overrun by invasive species and become noxious weed seed banks that contaminate neighboring fields.
Maintaining staff and performing the necessary management activities costs money. Where will that come from? My contributions to the organization are not dedicated to some acquisition goal. I want them to be used to sustain the organization.
My thirty-year vision for Greenbelt Land Trust is that it will continue to work to protect our natural areas so that future generations will be able to enjoy the wonderful place we live as much—or more—than we do.
Who knows? Maybe in thirty years some of us will still be around and can come back and commend the next generation for how well they have carried out our vision.