Open Country Project: Eugene RMEF Chapter Looking For Hands

If you want to see just how much of a difference one person can make, pay a visit to Oregon's Lane County.

There you'll have little trouble finding a place to volunteer some time and energy in an effort to improve public access and the quality of hunting and fishing you'll find when you get there.

And odds are good that you'll meet Kati McCrae.

McCrae is a "second time around" college student at Oregon State University and a member of the Eugene chapter of Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation. She's also the catalyst behind one of the nation's most active RMEF chapters in terms of on-the-ground work.

Getting Busy
"Five or six years ago, I don't believe the chapter had any projects," said McCrae. "This year we're doing 11, which is almost double from the 6 we had last year. Next year, I'm sure we'll do more.It's easy to start projects;I just talked to the local Forest Service stations and created a partnership. I help set up all of the projects, create flyers, and send them to as many people as I can. It really has been something we've worked diligently onto get going and the difference we're making is dramatic.."
Outdoor Life has teamed up with the Eugene chapter as part of its Open Country program and there are three more projects left in 2013 in need of volunteers.

On Aug. 24, the chapter will be in Lane County's Grasshopper Meadow to collect native grassland, forbes and wildflower seed as well as conducting some meadow restoration work. Alpine meadows are critical habitat for a variety of mountain species, including elk, and small conifers have steadily been encroaching in on these high meadows. Volunteers will remove those conifers and collect native grassland seed to help reestablish meadow areas.

Also on Aug. 24, the group will partner with Coos Bay BLM for a road repair and reseeding project designed to not only help meadow habitat in the area but to also repair an access road that allows for hunter and angler access into the area.

Finally, on Oct. 30, the chapter will do native forage planting and browse seeding in Lane County's Upper Foley Meadow.

Help Wanted
While the Eugene chapter's list of projects is impressive, there is a hurdle the group continues to battle: Lack of hands to do the work.

"We've had to cancel a project this summer because we didn't have any volunteers," McCrae said. "Part of the problem is just a lack of communication. I do everything I can to spread the word but sometimes it just isn't enough. The work that's being done is important. These habitats need our help. The Forest Service has been very willing to work and partner with us. But they can't do everything that needs to be done. We have to step up as volunteers."

And McCrae isn't just talking the talk. Her story is one that should provide all the inspiration needed to spend a few hours volunteering.

Earlier this year, McCrae was diagnosed with Lyme disease. A debilitating condition she most likely acquired from a tick bite while working in the field, possibly during a previous project.

"Life really came crashing down. There was tremendous pain. I couldn't move. I couldn't walk," she said. "I'm looking at 1-3 years of antibiotics and a pretty lengthy recovery. I haven't been able to get out to the projects this summer. I just don't have the stamina to get to the meadows. But I'm hoping to make it out to the Grasshopper Meadow project. It's a place where we've done a lot of work and the difference is remarkable. I want to be there to see how it's coming along and because I really thrive in the woods. And if I can make, I will."

And, hopefully, she'll see plenty of volunteers there as well.