A growing group of outdoor enthusiasts in the Bend area has a mission to not just enjoy their favorite hiking and fishing spots, but to learn more about them and help protect them. And they have encouraged others in Oregon to follow their lead.
Members of Friends and Neighbors of the Deschutes Canyon Area, or FANS for short, have partnered with the local Bureau of Land Management office to be the extra eyes, ears -- and sometimes, the work crew -- for jobs the cash-strapped agency cannot always handle.
FANS board president Cindy Murray said they have made some great headway this year on invasive weed removal on the middle section of the Deschutes, just north of Bend -- and actually had fun doing it.
"We've got a lot of them (weeds). There's no way these folks can monitor that. It's difficult for them to get crews out for trail maintenance, native plant restoration, trash cleanups -- that's where we fill in. And we love the work we're doing," Murray said.
It isn't all hard work, she added -- it can be a social outlet for members.
The group stays active year-round with native-plant workshops, a winter education program about the area and guided hiking trips.
They had a hike this weekend, and the next is coming up Sept. 8.
The Deschutes Canyon is an important area for native salmon and steelhead, but it also has become a dumping ground for trash. Members of the FANS group often alert local agencies and help with cleanup.
And even in this area rich with cultural history and pictographs, they find graffiti. For that, they work with archaeologist Terry Holtzapple from the BLM Prineville District office to ensure that it's removed correctly.
Holtzapple said she is impressed.
"It's even more incredible that they step forward to help us accomplish cleanup projects and being good stewards," Holtzapple said. "They have not only a passion for that particular area, but they have a lot of knowledge, too."
Another volunteer group, the Archaeological Society of Central Oregon, also helps with graffiti cleanup.
The FANS group charges a membership fee of $10 a year to join. It got started with the help of the Oregon Natural Desert Association in Bend, and now is its own nonprofit organization.
The FANS website is www.fansofdeschutes.org.
Chris Thomas of Oregon News Service provided this story.