Faces of Greenbelt – Christianson Family

Julie, Gale, and Carl Christianson – enjoying a local trail!

Meet Carl, Julie, and Gale Christianson

You can find the Christianson Family on trail walks, volunteer workdays, Symphony on the Land, and education forums. If you close your eyes and picture a young, active, thoughtful family … then Carl, Julie, and Gale come to mind. Since moving back to Corvallis in 2010 from Seattle to run the family business, G. Christianson Construction here in town, Carl and Julie have quickly become Greenbelt regulars. Learn about their interest in the outdoors, their family’s dedication to nature and environmental education, and why they make the mountains and rivers of the Willamette Valley their home.

Tell us about your own background in the outdoors. What inspired you to spend time on trails, in rivers, or mountains?

(J) I grew up in an airforce family, so we moved frequently. We lived in many warm climates, and one of our favorite family activities was camping and hiking. When I started to look at colleges I made a point of applying to schools where I could access the outdoors, especially for backpacking opportunities.

(C) Pretty much every vacation that my family took was focused on recreation, the outdoors, and hunting or fishing. The more remote, the better. My parents also have 6 acres on the edge of town, so I grew up making tree forts, mountain biking, and exploring Mac Forest. In high school I would bike out to a hidden part of the Forest at an old erosion study site, where I would sit and write my papers or homework.

What parts of the natural world most resonate with you?

(J) In Nature I find peace, beauty, and wildness. Being out in nature is akin to religious worship to both of us. This spiritual element of being close to nature centers us both individually, but also as a couple. We feel closer to God and the purpose of love and goodness when outdoors. When we met at OSU rambling around trails, mountains, and rivers was the thing that really brought us together.

(C) One of the values of Nature beyond the peace that it brings is the sense of empowerment that I feel when I am outdoors. I appreciate the sense of self-reliance that spending time outdoors challenges us to take on.

Now that you have a young family, what important values do you want to pass along to your children?

Symphony on the Land1(J) Humans have evolved with nature and there was a time when humans and the natural world had a harmonious connection. That connection has been lost over time, and there is now a discord between our human lives and nature. It is important for me to teach my children to meet nature where she is, rather than fighting it. We also want our children to preserve their own sense of wildness within themselves. Being outdoors helps us all to build a sense of self, to trust our instincts, and to develop a confidence in our abilities.

(C) I am worried about how technology has become the master of our daily lives. There is so much more to life, like the importance of love, kindness, beauty.

(C) As someone who grew up here, it is really important for Corvallis to have ample green spaces near town for people to explore on their own and re-discover their sense of adventure. It is also important to protect places that aren’t for production or harvest, like riparian area, floodplain forests, or open spaces.

(J) I hope that this area continues to be more and more people-centric, rather than car-centric. It is important to have pedestrian and bicycle-friendly living, and this is something that we really value in our lives here in Corvallis.

Talk about some of your favorite trails or memories of outdoor adventures…

(J) There are too many! Some of my favorite trails include Hart’s Cove and Cascade Head, a place protected by The Nature Conservancy north of Tillamook. This is my ‘magical fairy place’, so lush and green with Sitka spruce and hemlocks. Another favorite place is Oswald West State Park, which is a great glance into an intact coastal forest system. Another gem is Opal Creek Wilderness, which has become a favorite spot for both of us over the years.

(C) One of our favorite outdoor adventures happened right here on the Marys River. We were Sophmores at OSU when we decided that it would be a great idea to float on inner tubes down the Marys. There were four of us, three inner tubes and a dog, when we embarked later than we should have been. We put in near 53rd Street, thinking that it would only take an hour to make our way down to the Marys River Natural Area. After 3 hours and 2 deflated inner tubes we started realizing that we had to find a way out of the River before it got dark. Since Carl was the only one who had the foresight to bring shoes, he was the scout, rambling up the banks to try to find escape routes. We finally all crawled through seas of stinging nettles and blackberry thickets, shoeless and in bathing suits, finally emerging onto a vast farm field. We made our way to Brooklane where our car awaited. We all spent the next few days slathered in Benadryl and laughing at the ridiculousness of the whole adventure. These are the stories that we hold close to, and they remind us of the wildness and the joy of the unknown.

Julie, what drew you towards a career in Environmental Education? What is it about the outdoors that enhances and deepens our education experiences?

(J) As an undergraduate I did my thesis on the invasive spread of the butterfly bush and its impact on our ecosystem. I was going to talk before a task force made up of major state and federal agency personnel and academic faculty. I remember being a bit intimidated at giving a presentation before this level of audience, and I went to talk to my thesis advisor for some tips. He told me that I needed to tell them about the project, not explain it to them. This got me thinking about how we talk about science, and I realized that I really liked to explain. I had already been involved as guides at Environmental Education centers during the summers, and it occurred to me that I should change my career path to focus on educating people, rather than research. The best Environmental Education comes from someone who understands science, rather than from a scientist trying to teach. I enjoy talking about scientific concepts in a fun and enjoyable way. When I worked for an amazing EE center in Washington, Mercer Slough Environmental Center, is saw so many ‘struggling and disengaged’ students who truly came alive in the outdoors. Good Environmental Education capitalizes on the innate wonder and curiosity that we all have of how the world works. If we don’t see or feel nature regularly, then we tend to forget the wonder that we can feel with its presence in our lives.

(C) I care about building an appreciation for the land, to build the next generation of land stewards. Outdoor education inspires us all to be better stewards.

Tell us about why you became involved with Greenbelt Land Trust!

(c) It’s exciting to be part of an organization in town that is successfully protecting open spaces. They’re not just talking about it, they are doing it. We also appreciate that Greenbelt Land Trust works directly with landowners from across the Valley. This sense of collaboration is also seen in the outreach and events that Greenbelt puts on. There is a strong sense of community, which builds into a feeling of ownership and pride in the organization. It’s hard to find organizations that have this sense of community, and we’ve found it at Greenbelt.