Hands that preserve: HistoriCorps volunteers come to Silver Falls

June 2019 Posted in Other

Joan Wierzba working at Camp Silver Creek. MELISSA WAGONER

By Melissa Wagoner

Preserving historic structures isn’t a job just anyone can – or should – do, according to Ryan Prochaska a Historic Preservation Professional. The expertise, equipment and time needed are something few contractors possess. But with the help of HistoriCorps – a non-profit dedicated to maintaining historic structures for public use across the United States – now anyone can help preserve the nation’s most treasured structures.

“We’re here to preserve as much of the historic fabric of the structure as possible,” Prochaska said of the HistoriCorps mission. “We respect a lot of the material for its connection to the past. It challenges us to
match the quality because they really did have the time and materials.”

Employed as a historical preservationist for the past 25 years, Prochaska began working for HistoriCorps seasonally three years ago as a Project Supervisor.

“I get to work on some projects I wouldn’t work on otherwise,” he said. “And I get to travel and work in the woods and meet amazing people.”

The ability to travel inexpensively to some of the most beautiful places in the country is what attracts
most volunteers.

“Living in national parks is unbelievable,” Sarah Mees – who volunteered for seven weeks last year before becoming a crew leader said. “You get to see a side of the park that no one else gets to see.”

The projects themselves – which are located on public land in national parks, state parks and even in cities – are varied to include any historic structure that is of public benefit and deemed historically significant. But as diverse as the projects are, the volunteers who work on them are even more so.

“The job is rewarding but the people are fascinating,” volunteer Brian Brogie said. “They come from everywhere. And the energy of the young people I’ve met through the organization – they have such a passion for history.”

Brogie – a native of Tucson, Arizona – came across the HistoriCorps’ website several years ago while on a search for national parks to visit. Curious, he called his friend, Cara Kopowski of Bend, Oregon, and asked her to join him on a trip. Now, with several volunteer jobs under their belts, Brogie and Kopowski are working at Camp Silver Creek – located in Silver Falls State Park – helping to restore the dining hall.

“Besides getting to do something productive, we learn skills too and get to meet great people,” Kopowski explained as she glazed the building’s old windows, readying them for installation.

For this particular project, Prochaska, a crew leader and eight volunteers are not only restoring the hall’s windows but also replacing doors, wall shingles and hand rails.

“A lot of this is log work, so that means a fair amount of manual labor,” Prochaska noted. “It’s using what’s becoming lost arts of traditional hand skills.”

Although many of the volunteers have never done work of this type of work before, HistoriCorps is committed to ensuring a job for every skill-level.

“The project manager is always extremely willing to show you how,” Mees said. “Any comfort level we can adjust to.”

But it’s not all work and no play on the HistoriCorps sites. Volunteers generally camp together and meals are communal affairs provided by the staff.

“Our goal is to get the job done and have a great time doing it,” Prochaska enthused.

And during off hours – in the evenings or on Saturdays – there is time to explore the area around the job site, which is a primary perk.

“We like just exploring – just seeing everything,” long-time volunteer, Mark Wierzba, said. “It gives you history and everything.”

Wierzba and his wife, Joan, – who are currently based out of Canada – have been volunteering with HistoriCorps since the group’s first project in 2009. But they are not the only repeat volunteers on the Camp Silver Creek Project.

“This is my eighth or ninth,” Jim Lorenz said. “But this is the closest project I’ve been involved in.”

A resident of Salem, he is joined by fellow Salemite,
Vic Lippert, who – as a member of the Camp Silver Creek Alumni Association – was happy to lend a hand.

“To preserve all this is in the hearts of a lot of people,” he said.

Whether travelling from afar or volunteering from a nearby city, HistoriCorps makes it easy for volunteers to see new places and help save old ones, according to Mees who said, “There’s no reason not to volunteer. If you don’t like it, you can go home. But I love it.”

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