Park Happenings: A community's character

<I>Steve Wood/Washington State Parks</I><BR>Richard and Patricia Stambaugh of Kent, serve as modern day keepers of the North Head Lighthouse.

Prior to my relocation to the Long Beach area and Cape Disappointment, I served Washington State Parks in the South Beach area at Grayland Beach. During my time in South Beach, ironically located north of here, I became involved with the Westport-South Beach Historical Society and the Westport Maritime Museum. In many of my life's experiences I have encountered tribes of dedicated communities willing to preserve and protect local icons. The folks in Westport are no exception as on many occasions I received a first-hand view of their continued devotion to the Grays Harbor Lighthouse. Commonly referred to as the "Westport Lighthouse," an affectionate allusion to local ownership, citizens joined together to give the light a rebirth, and have displayed it proudly as a distinguishing feature of the Grays Harbor landscape. Local volunteers have made the Westport Light what it is today.

My name is Steve Wood, and I am an interpretive specialist at Cape Disappointment. It is my position to coordinate interpretive volunteers within our parks, and within your parks. Volunteers for Washington State Parks play a vital role in our service to visitors. Interpretive volunteers are stewards to the North Head Lighthouse, Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center and Fort Columbia Interpretive Center, but there are other options available as well. The campgrounds at Cape Disappointment, formerly Fort Canby, need dedicated hosts, but if project-type work is up your alley accommodations could be made.

If retail services come naturally to you, the Friends of the Columbia River Gateway would appreciate your assistance at the Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center Bookstore or the North Head Lighthouse Gift Store. In the Long Beach area, opportunities abound for volunteerism, so consider this a call to all locals; your iconic destinations need your assistance. Local support of such icons can be extremely rewarding to you and the character of this region, but don't take my word for it.

Terri and Jerry Shields of Long Beach have been volunteering at the North Head Lighthouse for over a year and a half. They have stood watch at the light, greeting and welcoming visitors, through sun, rain, hail and wind. They are modern day keepers to North Head who have remarked, "To work at [the] North Head Lighthouse ... makes us feel that we are contributing to the preservation and sharing of this historic treasure." I could continue praising the Shields for their tireless dedication to North Head, but perhaps their words would better capture their sentiment than mine. The following is a memory shared by Terri Shields:

"The last visitors had left the lantern room and we were securing the lighthouse for the night. Three bald eagles - two adults and a juvenile - swooped low off the bluff at North Head. The adults dived in and out among the high ocean swells and the juvenile careened back and forth between them. Thinking they would be caught by the crashing waves, I grabbed my binoculars.

"They all disappeared behind a huge swell. Suddenly, both adults launched themselves skyward, past the lantern room and soared above the treetops on Bell's View Hill. Clutched in their talons were fish they'd plucked from the waves. The juvenile chased after them; its talons empty. I looked around the lighthouse grounds and there were no visitors to be seen. Had I been the only witness to this amazing spectacle? As I continued to stash the props and tidy the lantern room, the juvenile returned alone to the sea, skimming the surf in search of its supper. So ended another day as volunteers at the North Head Lighthouse.

"Although there is a routine to follow and duties to perform, there is no script for what the shift will bring and no two days are ever alike. We can only imagine that it was much this way for all the souls who have gone before us at North Head. It provides time to feel a kinship with the workers who carried out similar duties. There's time to recall the area's rich history and hone stories we share with visitors. For us volunteering at the lighthouse is a joy. The view is 360 degrees and there's always something going on: river traffic; the ocean, sky and weather; wildlife on the land, in the air and in the sea. Each season brings a new display. If there's time for reverie, it never lasts long, as the visitors begin to arrive ...

"We've met visitors from all over the world and many of them stand out in our memories. A lady in her 80s from Kansas traveled here with her family for her first look at the ocean. She kept getting teary-eyed and apologizing, 'I never dreamed I would live long enough to see the ocean, let alone be in a lighthouse.'

"One little boy who hadn't even reached the last stair shouted as his head popped into the sunlight of the lantern room, 'Wow, I could stay up here forever.' That's exactly how we feel about volunteering at North Head Lighthouse and sharing the experience with others."

As I mentioned, Terri and Jerry Shields are dedicated, tireless volunteers to North Head. The two of them embody the true spirit of volunteerism - giving freely of their personal time so that others may experience what the Shields, if I may dare say, have grown to love. Of course, working at North Head is not an entirely romantic endeavor as there are duties to be carried out regularly.

For interpretive volunteers the required, daily tasks vary from site to site, but generally consist of greeting and welcoming visitors, providing informal interpretation and fee collection. The work shifts range from four to five hours with days flexible according to individual schedules. The North Head Lighthouse requires two individuals, one to staff the work room and the other to staff the lantern room. The Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center requires one, but we welcome couples to staff the front desk, and the same applies to Fort Columbia. The winter months typically create our greatest need for volunteers, as facilities are still open, yet seasonal staff is often reduced according to budgetary limitations.

If you are interested in volunteering within the Long Beach Area state parks, please call 642-3029 for interpretive opportunities and ask for Steve Wood. For campground or project inquiries, please call 642-3078 and ask for Ryan Green. If you are interested in volunteering with the Friends of the Columbia River Gateway, or would like to become a new member, please call 642-2502 and ask for Lona Niemi.

Margaret Mead once said, "Never doubt that a small group of committed citizens can change the world. Indeed it is the only thing that ever has." Changing the world can be a tall order, but affecting the quality of life in your neighborhood is not. The icons that characterize the Columbia-Pacific region need your help and volunteerism, and if any doubt exists as to what can be accomplished, take a look to the north at the proud beacon of the Westport Light. Take a moment to revisit an old haunt, remember what makes this place significant, and if you are willing, donate your time so that others may experience the true, remarkable character of this community. 

Steve Wood is an interpretive specialist at Cape Disappointment State Park. To contact him, call the Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center at 642-3029 or e-mail lcic@parks.wa.gov.

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