Volunteers hustle to fill wheelbarrows at Orchard Heights Park on Saturday, Jan. 15, 2022 (Helen Caswell/Special to Salem Reporter)

Early Saturday morning, West Salem’s Orchard Heights Park was 36 degrees and shrouded in fog. It was also teeming with 20 volunteers loading wheelbarrows full of wood chips and hauling them up the paths on the hill to resurface and reclaim popular trails that had become almost too muddy to be safe.

Lianna Lawrence, 71, shoveled chips without stopping for two solid hours. “In winter those trails get so mushy, you slide around on them. You literally have to wash your dog when you get home; the mud completely covers the underside of the dog. What we’re doing here is going to change that!” she said.

Ward 8 city councilor Jim Lewis was a moving force in making the day happen. (Helen Caswell/Special to Salem Reporter)

The bustling event did not spring to life overnight, said Councilor Jim Lewis, who represents west Salem’s Ward 8 and was on hand to shovel his share of the dusty bark in the cold. “I got a call from a resident, saying, ‘Hey, we could really use some of the bark dust to improve the trail,’ and I contacted the Parks Department,” he said. “I’m happy it’s time for Orchard Heights to get the attention. It’s neat to have these trails, but even neater to see volunteers put in the effort to make it happen.”

Social media outreach by Amanda Sitter, Salem’s parks volunteer coordinator, helped the event succeed, alerting many volunteers to the upcoming event.

Sitter visited Orchard Heights two days early to reconnoiter the area with Mark Wigg, volunteer project manager.

Volunteer project manager Mark Wigg hauls chips up a soggy trail. "What we have here are a couple dozen neighbors making life better for hundreds of people," Wigg said. (Helen Caswell/Special to Salem Reporter)

“Trail rehab or resurfacing is definitely needed here,” Sitter said, “and this is such a popular area, with its off leash dog park at the top of the path. We want to make it work for everyone.”

Following that meeting, Wigg sent the city’s parks and recreation department a shopping list of tools the project would require. On the list: a half-dozen orange cones, six hedge pruners, three leaf rakes, three garden rakes, six lopers, shovels, short-handled hoes and wheelbarrows.

All these were ready and in place on Saturday morning - as well as one yard of gravel and 10 yards of wood chips to dig.

Running wheelbarrows, volunteer Alan Holland said, "We all need to make this world a little better."(Helen Caswell/Special to Salem Reporter)

Trekking down the hill with his wheelbarrow, volunteer Alan Holland was all smiles.  He paused to look around at the woods and admire it. “I love this park,” he said. “What we do today will improve the safety and comfort for my neighbors. It gives me joy to think this will help.”

“I think It’s important for all citizens to do community service,” Holland added, “and I’m practicing that. We all need to make this world a little better.”

Three Deaf friends, Lewis Agenbroad, Julie Reis and Buffy Reis, shoveled tirelessly, focusing on the massive, steaming and mildew-filled chip pile, where they loaded countless wheelbarrows.  

Reis said that the three had been friends for 15 years. They found out about the opportunity on social media.  “Lewis loves to volunteer,” Reis said, “and we love him, so we signed up. This way we get to enjoy each other’s company and be out in nature.”

Deaf friends Lewis Agenbroad, Julie Reis and Buffy Reis came out Saturday, Julie Reis said, "to enjoy each other's company and be out in nature." (Helen Caswell/Special to Salem Reporter)

Agenbroad said, “I’m very happy to be here, helping out in the community. I played in this park as a kid, so it feels really special to help out now.”

Dylan Layton was assigned to the Saturday morning work party as part of required community service hours.. Still, he liked it. “Most of the time the jobs I do are things like empty garbage cans and pick up trash,” Layton said. “I prefer this a lot more, because it’s more active and other people are working. It’s cool to see this get done, and the community getting together like this.”

Dylan Layton was at Orchard Heights Park to help fulfill 80 hours of required community service. (Helen Caswell/Special to Salem Reporter)

Micki Varney, Chair of Salem Parks and Recreation Advisory Board, and Chair of the West Salem Neighborhood Association Parks Committee, was watching and listening to the people around her as she hauled bark to the trail.

“Working in our parks like this,” she said, “gives me the opportunity to interact with park users. This way I can find what improvements matter to them, whether it is a facility or trail or picnic tables. These encounters help put me in a position to reflect people’s wishes and move things forward on them."

Micki Varney Chair of Salem Parks and Recreation Advisory Board, and Chair of the West Salem Neighborhood Association Parks Committee, volunteers at Orchard Heights Park (Helen Caswell/Special to Salem Reporter)

Sometimes there were so many parts in motion that traffic jams occurred on the trail, to everyone’s good humor.

Frank Evans, with the city’s arks department, was just glad there were wheelbarrows enough to crowd the trail.  

Over the hours, he kept an eye on things. “It’s great for me to see people out here working,” he said. “This is a good morale booster for me.”

Frank Evans, City of Salem Parks and Recreation, brought the tons of needed equipment. "This is a good morale booster for me," he said. (Helen Caswell/Special to Salem Reporter)

Saturday's adventure isn’t a one-time event, said both Sitter and Wigg. The two coordinators said 11 other city parks will receive similar attention this year. 

That will take a lot of teamwork and coordination, but Wigg is confident. “I love working with the parks staff,” he said. “They provide resources to help local groups get projects completed. They make it easy to improve parks.”

“We’re excited to do these monthly, going to different parks,” Wigg said. “These are called trail parties because friends are getting together to make their community a better place to live.”

City of Salem Parks and Recreation volunteer coordinator Amanda Sitter visited Orchard Heights Park days earlier to discuss the quality of chips to be used. "We are here for our community," Sitter said. (Helen Caswell/Special to Salem Reporter)

A trail at Orchard Heights Park before a work crew on Jan. 15, 2022 (Helen Caswell/Special to Salem Reporter)

Traffic jams on trails occurred (Helen Caswell/Special to Salem Reporter)

Writer Helen Caswell can be reached at [email protected]

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