By Mary Owen
When visiting the South Falls Nature Store at Silver Falls State Park, be sure to stop and smell the flowers.
Placed on the table by the front entrance, the ever-changing, fresh bouquets of spring flowers come from the backyard of Earl McCollum, who has been volunteering at the store since 2005.
“A volunteer at the Nature Store talked to me about how great it was to volunteer there,” said McCollum, who trained as an agriculture teacher and worked at a community college for 22 years. “I studied botany and crop information. I also taught wildflower identification.”
McCollum puts his skills to work leading wildflower hikes at the park.
“I talk about the wildflowers that are in bloom that day, which are edible, which are poisonous,” he said. “I share how the Native Americans used the plants. I also mention the geology of the falls.”
McCollum said people are very receptive to the information.
“I have many repeat hikers,” he said. “One has been coming on a hike with me every year for the last five years. I have one person who comes from Port Angeles!”
McCollum also serves as vice president of the Friends of Silver Falls State Park, an organization that supports the educational and interpretive opportunities available to park visitors. The group also promotes the preservation and protection of Silver Falls, Oregon’s largest state park. More 1.2 million people visited the park last year.
“Earl is a cheerful person who loves to tell jokes and work with people,” said Lou Nelson, president of the Friends. “Meeting people from all over the world is one of the things he like best about volunteering at the store.”
McCollum feels that Silver Falls State Park is one of the most beautiful places in Oregon and loves answering visitor questions about its plants and wildlife.
“He also likes working with the other volunteers and the park rangers,” Nelson said. “Earl feels that volunteering at the store is a way to feel useful and give back to the community in a beautiful setting.”
McCollum’s flower walks begin spring vacation and run through November, usually at 2 p.m. every Thursday leaving from the Lodge in the day-use area. He will also lead a hike at the 39th annual Mother’s Day Birding and Wildflower Festival slated for May 13-14. A schedule of events can be found at www.SilverFallsStatePark.wordpress.com.
As the park gears up for spring and summer visitors, additional South Falls Nature Store volunteers are needed.
“We have two shifts a day of four hours each seven days a week, and ask our volunteers to work a shift once a week,” Nelson said. “We like our volunteers to work in pairs, so that means we need a minimum of 28. We only have 13 right now so many are volunteering for more than one shift. If you would like to work with Earl or any of the other wonderful volunteers, give us a call.”
South Falls Nature Store is located in a historic cabin, and carries a variety of books, clothing and souvenirs in keeping with the park’s nature theme. Proceeds go to fund the educational and interpretive programs in the park. For information or to volunteer, call 503-873-8735 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.