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Eugene Weekly : Coverstory : 4.22.2010

 

Earth Day 2010

Let it Flow Restoring Green Island

Prickly Project Wrestling thorn vines in the nude t’aint for sissies

Make Way for Turtles Can kids get the UO to help the Millrace?

Maintaining a Beautiful Butte The key is to stay on the trail

Prickly Project 

Wrestling thorn vines in the nude t’aint for sissies

By Rick Levin

Clearing brambles by hand is vicious, punishing work. Take, for instance, one of the Northwest’s more pervasive invasives, the common blackberry bush. A few hours of yanking up those stubborn vines will leave your hands and thighs and ankles and face a bloody mess, criss-crossed with scratches and puncture wounds. Those dorsal thorns — rising like cacti spines to a fine, translucent peak — can slice through even the toughest work gloves or denim pants.

Glassbar Island Volunteers get ready to restore

Now picture removing blackberries without protection. No, not just minus the gloves and pants. Minus everything. As in nude. No clothes. Naked. Forget about why anyone would commit such a seemingly reckless act. What about how? “You just be very careful,” says Doug Dane of Glassbar Island Volunteers, a coalition of nudity enthusiasts who, through the SOLV Oregon Adopt-a-River program, are stewards of a large swath of Oregon State Parks and Recreation land south of Eugene, at the confluence of the Middle and Coast forks of the Willamette.

“Several of us are pretty passionate about it,” Dane says of the group’s efforts, which include clearing trails, removing invasive or non-native plants, keeping the place clean and otherwise protecting the existing ecosystem with nothing but hand tools and hard work. “We’re not just clear-cutting,” he adds. “We’re trying to preserve the natural habitat.”

“We carry in our own tools,” says GIV President Dave Rosenblatt, adding that often they hide their equipment at site. “We just work a little, sit and enjoy the sun, then work a little more.”

On any given day, there are four or five volunteers out on the site, which incorporates not only the island but also the half-mile or so of trails that lead up to it. Up until the early 1970s, the whole area was mined for gravel during the construction of Highway 99, which accounts for the several man-made ponds that dot the landscape. According to the Glassbar web site, the island itself, which can only be accessed safely during low flows and slow currents, has been a nude beach off and on since the 1950s, when local teens started skinny-dipping. They called the place “Hot Rocks,” so-named for the basalt worn smooth by the eroding currents of the Willamette River.

Rosenblatt says the mission of the Glassbar Island Volunteers (formerly Glassbar Island Nude Beach Volunteers) is to create and maintain a peaceful, nurturing symbiosis between the natural habitat and the nudists who enjoy it. “We want it to be a human-animal-plant integrated system,” Rosenblatt explains, pointing out that his group, which just filed for nonprofit status, works closely with the county and state and has been assisted in the past by other restoration groups like Friends of Buford. “They’re a great group,” Rosenblatt says of the Mount Pisgah volunteers. “They’re really fun.”

Anybody who visits the Glassbar site will be impressed with the sheer amount of work the volunteer group has done, which includes the removal of heaps of debris that has piled up over the years. Rosenblatt says that he’s seeing more and more animals showing up every day, such as turtles, osprey, otter and great blue heron. “Everybody that’s ever come out here has just squawked about this place,” Rosenblatt says of the area’s natural beauty. “They love it.”

Glassbar Island Volunteers are associated with the Northwest chapter of the American Association for Nude Recreation, though they say anyone is welcome to enjoy the site, so long as they follow the county’s guidelines on nudity and “leave any personal ego trips, judgmental attitudes and critiques regarding diverse people and nudity” at home. “It’s a nude beach, number one,” says Rosenblatt. “You can keep your clothes on, but you might get snickered at — in a good-natured sort of way.”