Fifteen Exceptional Volunteers

Earlier this year, we highlighted Ten Superlative ONDA Volunteers.

While it’s National Volunteer Week, we’d like to introduce you to fifteen more unique and highly dedicated members of ONDA’s desert conservation community.  Hopefully these stories will make for good conversation starters, should you meet one of these desert champions at an ONDA event, on a stewardship trip, or out on the trail.


What defines Oregon’s high desert?

What defines Oregon’s high desert?

Bounded by the Cascade Mountains to the west and the Blue Mountains to the north, Oregon’s high desert covers approximately 24,000 square miles. Annual rainfall in the high desert varies from 5 to 14 inches. The average elevation is 4,000 feet; at 9,733 feet, the summit of Steens Mountain is the highest point in Oregon’s high desert. The terrain of the high desert was mostly formed by a series of lava flows that occurred between 30 and 10 million years ago.

Sources: The Oregon Encyclopedia; Wikipedia  


Durlin Hicock, Alice Elshoff Award winner

Durlin Hicock, Alice Elshoff Award winner

“Protecting public land is part of my spiritual being. It’s central to my identity to be in wilderness and to see it protected.” Durlin is proud to protect public lands for future generations, saying, “The highlight of my childhood was our family’s weekend outdoor trips. I look forward to my grandchildren having similar experiences outside in their lifetimes, and it wouldn’t be possible without ONDA.”


Stewardship Fence Building Timelapse

Stewardship Fence Building Timelapse

Best Staged Photo Poses

Inspired by the great work accomplished on a restoration project one spring, James Spitzer grabbed all the tools of trade — buckets, shovels, post pounders, gloves, wire — all at once, and posed for a series of dramatic and slightly absurd photographs. 

Best Pen Pal

Diana Eddleston volunteered at our Bend office almost every single week of 2019 to assist with mailings, bringing her commitment and enviable handwriting to our outreach and conservation work. If you’ve received a thank-you letter, ordered a Wild Desert Calendar or signed an advocacy postcard, there’s a very good chance Diana was behind it.

Best Sense of Direction

David and Janet Bowman took part in a special trip in the Spring Basin Wilderness where volunteers would learn basic navigation skills and how to circumnavigate this largely trail-less wilderness using those skills. With their interest in route-finding piqued, the duo went spent the next year learning and practicing those skills. Now we are learning from them!

Most Likely to Recommend A Book

We’ve noticed that Mike Parr shows up to every ONDA event with two objectives: learn more about Oregon’s high desert and fill the bookshelves of anyone who wants to come along on his learning journey! You’ll see him at events or in email inboxes, chatting up fellow ONDA supporters inviting them to read more about the high desert’s natural history and ecology. Among the recommendations on his endless list of books to read are two early 20th century books, “The Poet in the Desert,” written in 1915 by Charles Erskine Scott Wood, and “The Land of Little Rain,” written in 1903 by Mary Austin.

Most Likely to Drive All Night

Some people don’t have time to volunteer due to their busy careers.

Not Robin Kaai.

She will work all Friday, then drive through the night, quietly slip into camp, sleep in her car and seemingly appear like magic on the morning of work.

Most Inspiring

Artist, maker, do-gooder Elissa Pfost not only shows up to volunteer on stewardship trips and at events, she also provided the super cool sage-grouse illustration you’ll see on the bandana we give out to new and renewing members at ONDA events

Most Apologetic If He Can’t Attend an Event

Terry Butler is one of those all-stars who plans his schedule far in advance, going to great lengths including asking ONDA staff about events happening as far as six months in advance. Not only does he enjoy joining ONDA’s stewardship trips in the field, but he’s a regular volunteer and attendee at events in Portland, and provides the sincerest apologies if there’s ever a single event he needs to skip!

Read more

Most Extensive High Desert Ecology Knowledge

Whether sharing information about geology, migratory birds, native desert plants or stream morphology, Elizabeth McLagan‘s wealth of naturalist knowledge is a tremendous value-add for volunteers on the many trips she attends. Her curiosity to expand her knowledge base is contagious and she invites others to exchange observations about the natural world on the micro and macro levels.

Most Likely To Wear Out a Post-Pounder

Last spring, on the South Fork Crooked, we planted hundreds of cottonwood trees that needed cages built around them to protect them from browse and beaver while they are growing. Wound up into a zen-like work flow, Bill Hull pounded in so many t-posts for the cages that he eventually wore out a solid steel fence post pounder.

Most Likely To Show Up Randomly In the Wilderness

Dan Holz   Website

On one of our annual last fence pull trips at Hart Mountain, the only remaining bit of fence could only be reached by way of a 1.5-hour, 3 mph, 4WD, roadless overland drive out to the middle of nowhere. After about an hour of work, a faint dust cloud appeared in the distance from even further out in the middle of nowhere.  We kept working, with an eye on the approaching cloud. Eventually, a Toyota pickup truck bounced up across the plain and out sauntered Julie Weikel, who said, casually, “Hi JJ, I heard you guys might in the neighborhood, so I just decided to swing by and lend a hand.” Julie is one of the stars of Sagebrush Sisters, which is worth checking out if you haven’t seen it.

Most Adventurous Spirit

Bill Welch is game for anything. He always has a fun trip up his sleeve and enjoys disappearing into the wilderness for the next adventure. His good-natured can-do attitude is refreshing, and I am invigorated each time we talk about past or upcoming adventures.

The Otto Wrangler

Mark Rhodes made himself invaluable as part of the team who worked a tractor-mounted auger with one of our cooperating landowners, Otto Keller. The machine is loud and requires pulling down on a 20-foot metal pole to start the auger. That pole swings around wildly as the tractor is maneuvered to the next hole and Mark needed to use all his rugby days bobbing and weaving skills to avoid getting swept away by the pole.



Biggest Smile No Matter The Task

Bob Denouden is a delightful and diligent long-serving member of our board of directors. And, when his wife Maria joins him on stewardship trips, the duo exemplifies cheeriness no matter what they are doing. Digging in squelching mud? Smile. Dry dusty fence-pull in the unseasonal heat? Smile. Covered in sap and poked by juniper branches? Smile. Cold beer at the end of the day? Smile.

Read Bob's Bio