It was a humble beginning for Eugene Outdoor Rec. The program began in 1966, with the devotion of one staff person—Mel Jackson. A leader in outdoor education, Jackson was a tireless advocate for our local waterways and natural areas, even guiding governor Bob Straub and state legislators on canoe trips to promote the formation of the Willamette River Greenway.
The first classes were frequently themed on survival skills and camping—how to navigate with a compass or weather a storm in a deer hunting camp. Programs cost one to two dollars, were designed for beginners, and quickly gained popularity.
Outdoor Rec moved into its current house on the river in 1972. A canoe house was constructed shortly after, and is still in use today, though it now houses candy-colored kayaks and stand-up paddle boards rather than wooden canoes.
While programs and staff size have changed over time, the adventurous spirit of Outdoor Rec has not. Classes still encourage everybody to get outside, learn new skills, and grow as individuals. “We can use an activity like climbing or rafting to highlight strengths and challenge people to improve,” says Roger Bailey, current program supervisor.
The experiences one might have navigating a rapid, climbing the columns at Skinner Butte, or working through an exercise with a team at the Spencer Butte Challenge Course are all metaphors in a way for day-to-day life. “These are skills that help you interact with peers and respond in an environment that may be challenging,” Bailey says. “By taking people outdoors, they’re able to see skills and personal development in a different way.”
We’re looking forward to another 50 years of learning by rafting, climbing, sailing, skiing, hiking and exploring the great outdoors.
Learn more about Eugene Rec’s history through the recently published A History of City of Eugene Recreation by Bruce Steinmetz, available to check out in the downtown Library and at each community center and pool.