It was raining cats and dogs on the morning of July 16th, 2022, and we were about to cancel the planning potluck. But the forecast showed clear sky by 1 pm and the event began. Cars were arriving and people were rushing under the roof for cover.
Once a year we gather to discuss our work trips for the upcoming season. It is a time to connect, socialize, share food, and spend time together. This year’s potluck was extra special because it was our opportunity to celebrate the 40th anniversary of Service in the Preserves (SIP). We planned a special program and invited special guests. One of the guests was Jim Davidson, a person who was a critical to the formation of SIP when it was just getting started. The conversation that catalyzed the formation of SIP has been highlighted many times, but it is worth repeating:
Back in 1982, Katryn Renard, young and new to town, asked Jim, then-president of Columbus Audubon (CA), when the next Audubon work trip would be. Jim’s answer was “when you start them.” He connected Katryn with the Ohio Department of Natural Resources and thus, a partnership between ODNR and Columbus Audubon was born. The tree planting project at Clifton Gorge NP in 1982 marked the beginning of Service in the Preserves.
Volunteering gives me the opportunity to have a direct impact in maintaining and improving our beautiful preserves. It is very satisfying to see the results of our physical labor. I have met so many interesting people who share my love of and fascination with the natural world. Working side-by-side with other volunteers has resulted in friendships that will be lifelong.
Every year since then, CA volunteers completed multiple work trips in Ohio State Nature Preserves. Armed with loppers, hand saws, hammers, shovels, and other tools, wearing work gloves and sturdy boots, volunteers worked on various projects needed to insure the continued health of the preserves. In many cases, their projects were challenging. In the words of one-time SIP coordinator and long-term work tripper Sharon Treaster, the job was “tough, prickly, but essential.”
It might seem like nature preserves are areas that are put aside and need no maintenance, but this is not the case. Created to conserve unique places and rare vulnerable ecosystems, nature preserves require constant attention and care. Invasive species put enormous pressure on natural communities, threaten their existence, and have to be kept under control. Preserves with public access require installation of parking lots, trails, and signs. Boardwalks, stairs, and footbridges must be built and repaired. Newly dedicated areas often require extensive cleanups and demolition of existing structures. ODNR staff continually works on maintenance and always needs extra hands to keep up with all 140 state designated preserves. Sam Speck, a former director of ODNR, noted in 2006 that “without our partnership with the Columbus Audubon Society and its volunteers, many of these tasks would not be completed.”
Over 40 years, the program has seen many successful and fun work trips. Unfortunately, a full historic record does not exist and information about early years is especially scarce. In order to reconstruct SIP history, we recently collected data from existing planning documents, newsletters, work trip pictures, and personal memories. This research effort has recovered information on the majority of SIP projects (according to our estimate – 86% of work trips are now recorded). If you like numbers, check out “SIP in numbers” below.
Service in the Preserves is a big extended family, a group dedicated to making some real lasting good
in the nature preserves. My favorite part about it is working on the construction projects: boardwalks,
bridges, and things like that.
SiP By The Numbers: 1982 – 2022
- Total work trips: 246
- Work trips per year: 7 – 8
- Average attendance: 10 – 15 volunteers
- Nature preserves visited with work trips: 63
The best way to learn about SIP’s work is to visit the interactive map that was recently added to the SIP website. It is a visual summary of 40 years of service. It connects projects, locations, dates, and faces and gives a unique perspective on the scale and reach of the program. Click on the map to explore!
But SIP is not all about work and numbers, it is also about people. It is a small enthusiastic community united by the idea of giving back to nature. Although the group has changed over the years with people coming and going, the longevity of the program can be directly attributed to friendship. Emily Eby, one of SIP’s volunteers, recently commented: “The sense of camaraderie we gain by working as a team for a common cause and the satisfaction we feel as we look back to see all that we have achieved, keep us coming back.”
During four decades, the group has accumulated many shared stories and memories. We had a beautiful opportunity to remember some of these stories during the planning potluck when we played a special Bingo game dedicated to SIP. Yes, the game was based purely on SIP trivia! For an outsider, phrases like “It may be 15 miles, but it’s not out of the way” (ice cream), “The bridge to nowhere”(we were promised a trail would be build to it), and “It’s a trifle, not a truffle” (a favorite potluck dessert) might mean little, but among the group’s members they ignite memories and laughter.
The Smith family started [participating] with the second work trip – planting trees. Our daughter Dori was [then] one-year old and in a backpack. All of our children started on the trips as babies. We learned to appreciate nature and to work as a team.that will be lifelong.
It’s all about relationships. There is a great joy in working with like-minded people on a project you care about and the friendships that develop make life that much sweeter.
This small initiative, born in 1982, has proven to be a success story. What is in the future? Does the program have another 40 years ahead? That’s a good question. We do not see any decline in the demand for our work – the preserve managers keep asking us for more work projects than we are able to commit to. The rest of the story depends on all of us. And if you check our calendar and sign up for an upcoming work trip, the answer is “Yes.”
We would like to congratulate SIP volunteers on the anniversary
and to say thank you to everybody who has contributed to the program.
More SiP Numbers: 1982 – 2022
Most frequently visited preserves
- Gallagher Fen – 17 work trips
- Clifton Gorge – 14 work trips
- Siegenthaler-Kaestner Esker – 14 work trips
Types of projects
- Trails/trail sections built or improved – 85
- Built or repaired: Boardwalks – 39
- Footbridges – 33
- Stairs – 21
- Decks, blinds, benches, fences – 21
It’s been all good for many, many days. Preserving nature with old friends and new ones. You never know what to expect for the day.
For me, being a work tripper is a way to support Ohio’s natural areas and preserves. By helping to maintain these beautiful and unique areas, I’m putting my time and effort into something about Ohio that I deeply appreciate.