New Years Hike; Whale Watching; Wildfire Smoke and Mental Health

New Years Hike

A popular New Year’s Day activity in Oregon are the guided “First Day Hikes” at Oregon State Parks.  Patrick Dill is the interpretive ranger at Jesse M. Honeyman Memorial State Park.  He’ll be leading next week’s hike at Honeyman.

“I just really love this trail that I have planned because it’s kind of where the lake meets the dunes meets the forest.”

The Hike will begin at 9 AM January 1st at the Historic Lodge and Bathhouse in the day-use area of Cleawox Lake.  One feature of the 1.8 mile hike will be a stop at a unique sculpture, the Eye of the Needle.

“The Eye of the Needle was installed in the late 70s as a memorial for Jesse.  She was really the pioneer who helped make this Oregon State Park possible and helped preserve it for all of Oregon.”

The hike will cover some uneven terrain over a variety of surfaces.  Dill says “please, no dogs”.   A similar hike will start at Lake Marie at Umpqua State Park at ten AM, then one is set for one PM near the boat ramp at William M. Tugman State Park in Lakeside.

Whale Watching

It’s not just holiday travelers making a trek this time of year.  Right now is the annual migration of gray whales headed south from Alaska to warmer waters off Baja, Mexico to calve.  Oregon State Parks will be hosting 15 different whale watching sites beginning Thursday and running through New Years’ Day up and down the Oregon Coast.  There should be plenty of whale action off shore, Stephanie Knowlton with the Oregon Parks and Recreation Department says last year an estimated 14,500 whales made the southbound trip.  .  Knowlton says any high spot with a good view of the horizon can be the best spot to see them.  But, since they can be quite a ways offshore volunteer whale watchers can help you spot them.  That’s why there are 15 locations up and down the coast that are staffed with volunteers to help you.  They’ll be identified with signs that say “Whale Watching Spoken Here.

Wildfire Smoke and Mental Health

Longer wildfire seasons are having a negative effect on rural American’s mental health. Research has found wildfire smoke impacts physical health and also creates feelings of anxiety, isolation and despair. Will Volpert and his wife have owned the white water rafting company Indigo Creek Outfitter in Talent, Oregon for more than a decade. He says warning people about the potential for wildfire smoke has become a persistent part of his business.

“I used to get very stressed out and paralyzed with the idea of losing our summer, which for us is, as the owners of this small business, our livelihood.”

Southwestern Oregon experienced nearly 13 days of unhealthy air from wildfire smoke a year over the past decade. Before that, the region only averaged one or two. Research shows smoke days are impacting people in rural areas more than urban ones. David Molitor with the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign looked at 13 years of smoke and federal suicide data to track the mental health effects.

“So, in rural areas, we find that smoke days are significantly associated with increases in suicide rates.”