November 29, 2022

Meet Patrick Shannon of the National Forest Foundation, the man who has helped re-open many of the trails in the Columbia River Gorge

By Lars Gesing
A photograph of National Forest Foundation Pacific Northwest and Alaska Director Patrick Shannon who spoke with Seattle artist and photographer Lars Gesing about trails-reopening in the Columbia River Gorge after the Eagle Creek Fire.

Patrick Shannon is the Pacific Northwest and Alaska Director of the National Forest Foundation, one of my 1% for the Planet partners who I am proud to support with a portion of proceeds from every artwork sale. The other day I called Patrick up to learn more about what the NFF is doing here in the Pacific Northwest to protect our beautiful public lands.
 

Tell me about your work.

I am the Pacific Northwest & Alaska Director at the NFF, so I work on national forests in Oregon, Washington and Alaska. I work with the Forest Service to identify areas on national forests that need help, either improved recreation areas like trails and campgrounds, or fish and wildlife habitat that needs restoration. Then, me and my colleagues fundraise to help pay for these repairs and restoration activities. It is great work as I get to travel to amazing outdoor places.

How did you get into this line of work?

I have to degrees in natural resources, which helped me in my career to be able to do this work, but mainly I have been working in conservation my entire career. I feel at home in natural areas like national forests, and I kept looking for work that would not only connect me to these areas, but also rewarding work where I could improve them and leave a lasting impact.

Would you mind sharing the story of your most memorable day at work?

There have been many memorable days at work for me, usually when I’m in a national forest visiting a project we are working on. One of the most memorable days was when I led a hike in the Columbia Gorge two years after the Eagle Creek Fire burned over 48,000 acres. Known specifically as the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area, it is well known by many people both locals and visitors. The wildfire was quite devastating to many people when they heard the area burned. 

At the NFF, we acted quickly and set up a fund to collect donations to help restore the area and reopen the hiking trails so people could once again see the Gorge, but with a new look. This hike was memorable because the people I was leading on a hike were from companies who had donated to the fund and they were seeing the impact their donations had. With their donations (and many others) we were able to reopen multiple hiking trails and to most people’s surprise, the Gorge has been recovering really well. It looks different now with dead trees in many places, but the carpet of green ferns, vine maple and tree saplings growing up showed the visitors that the Gorge will recover, just with a little bit of help. 

National Forest Foundation volunteers work on trails in the Columbia River Gorge in Oregon.

What are some of the biggest challenges you face today?

During the pandemic and since its start, the number of people recreating on national forests has skyrocketed, which is generally a good thing. However, along with that increase in the number of people, there have been pretty negative impacts to trails and unfortunate behavior of some people who don’t treat national forests as the treasures that they are. The biggest challenge is that the U.S. Forest Service, who manages and maintains national forests, does not have enough staff to keep up with the amount of recreation activity. While this is a big challenge, this is one of the reasons the NFF was created, to help restore recreation areas and wildlife habitat by seeking donors who cherish public lands and want to give back. We can help maintain these trails and protect natural resources, but we need people to chip in and help.

What does home mean to you in the context of nature and your work?

When think about where I live from a perspective of nature, I think about the ecosystem in which I live. The ecosystems in which we live really does define who we are from the weather that we experience on a daily basis to the trees, plants and animals we can see growing in our neighborhoods or nearby national forest. I live on the rainy side of Oregon, which means a long rainy season with mild temperatures and a dry summer season. That also means I know that every year salmon will swim up from the ocean past where many of us live and spawn up on (oftentimes) a national forest. I feel a strong sense of connection to a place based on what is happening around me.

Based on your work and experience, what is the one thing you’d like people to take away from this conversation?

Your photography really captures the beauty that exists in our country. We are so lucky to have vast open areas that provide habitat for wildlife, clean drinking water and places for people to roam. The concept of public lands, like national forests, which are set aside for current and future generations, is something not to be taken for granted. It is pretty amazing and we are lucky. I hope people can explore their nearby national forest or travel to a new one and appreciate the wonder that is out there. But also, that there are ways to give back and support the protection and restoration of these important landscapes. 
 

Several photographs in this post were made available by the National Forest Foundation.
 
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Conservation Pledge in Action