Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Why Give Money to the Forest Park Conservancy?

Here's a good race idea: limit the number of participants to 40, and charge them $535.00 each to run. That's $21,400 of almost pure profit.

That's exactly what the Forest Park Conservancy (formerly Friends of Forest Park) is doing with their "first annual" event called the "Run 20! For 20!" on Saturday, June 20, 2009. They're celebrating 20 years of cleaning up the trails by holding a 20-mile run on the Wildwood Trail. Each runner that registered is required to raise or donate $500, in addition to their $35 registration fee. If they fail to raise the total amount, the remainder will be billed to them.

But, it's for a good cause, right? Forest Park is the largest city park in the country, and is home to miles of interconnecting trails, including the Wildwood Trail, which runs over 30 miles from one point to the other. Yes, the profits of the event will go to the Forest Park Conservancy, which will use the money to hire people to work on the trail. But isn't it odd that this same organization persuaded the city to close the entire park to certain events, yet they are allowing themselves to put on an event for their own profit? Yes, the Conservancy is a registered not-for-profit organization, so no single individual should be profiting, but that doesn't mean the organization doesn't aim to make a profit each year. They have to at least break even after spending the money they they have budgeted for the year. And where does this money come from? It comes from you, if you would kindly donate.

Don't be fooled by political speak. The Conservancy doesn't own the park - you do. The Conservancy started as a "Friends of" organization, one of hundreds in the area. They kindly donated their time to help clean the trails of ivy, repair damage from inclement weather and mudslides, remove downed trees, etc. The City of Portland allowed the Friends of Forest Park a pseudo-stewardship status because they were the only people putting time, energy and money into maintaining the park and the trails. The City only had one full-time staff member to do all the work in Forest Park, so they happily allowed the "Friends of" organization to take charge of maintenance, which they were volunteering to do at no cost. And so, the Friends of Forest Park, bolstered by fresh rounds of donations, self-appointed themselves as the Forest Park Conservancy, and started raising money to pay for all the things that the City assumed that they were going to do for free.

So, now that we have entrusted the Conservancy to take care of the trails, where does it go from here? I've always thought that the work that they and other volunteers have done on the trails is great, but now I'm not so sure. I mean, if a tree falls over a section of the trail, would I rather vault over it, or have someone come in and saw the tree in half and remove it from the area? I'd rather vault over it. Would I rather leap over small creeks, or run over a bridge? I think I'd rather have the trail as wild as possible. The cleaner, nicer, wider and flatter the trail becomes, the more walkers and tourists will come, each with a baby stroller and four unleashed dogs.

Visit the Conservancy for more information.

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