Wednesday, July 17, 2013

This Is News, Right?

Light me up.

Ray Overhand used to have no trouble finding retirees willing to spend time rebuilding hiking trails. But now the does, and lots of them end up in jail to boot.

Overhand, 47, is director of Volunteer Recruitment in Oregon's Cascade National Forest. He's been at it for 17 years, and until recently has had very few problems.

"Used to be, we'd buy everybody a T-shirt, plunk down a box of sandwiches, and get three or four days of work out of them. We rebuilt a lot of trails that way. These days, it doesn't work so good."

One of Overhand's problems: money. Budgets have been drastically thinned, what with the politicians in D.C. spending all their time calling each other names.

"Even last year, we had close to 700 volunteers who managed to finish $26 million of work. Six hundred dollars worth of T-shirts and $2000 of PB&J will keep 50 volunteers going for a week. A paid crew, well there's no comparison, they cost at least 20 times as much," he said. "Geezers work harder too."

But there has been a sea change lately, with medical marijuana available in Oregon, and Washington State going and legalizing it altogether.

"Now I get these folks out on the trail, and they all grew up in the 60s and so on, and they've been toking all their lives, just waiting for the day when weed would be legal, and now it is, sort of, but not federally, and they keep getting arrested.

"Every time my crew takes a breather, somebody lights up a joint, and then the bushes explode – we got bunches of Dudley Do-Rights crawling around, talking into their lapels, and calling in the black helicopters," he said. "And there goes another trail crew."

Overhand has lost 36 volunteers this season alone. "Really screws up morale. Nationwide, we have a $314 million maintenance backlog for hiking trails, the Forest Service can't even afford T-shirts, but they're out there arresting grannies and bald guys with bad knees. I don't even get invited to birthday parties any more."


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