The first Wenas campout was held Memorial Day weekend in 1963. It has continued without interruption except for May 1980 with the eruption of Mount St. Helens. That is until now.
We are sad to say that the annual Wenas Memorial Day Campout has been cancelled for this year. The Wenas organizing committee has determined that in light of Covid-19 and looking at the health and safety of everyone attending, that it would not be responsible to hold this popular event as usual. We just aren’t able to guarantee the safety of attendees and are not willing to take that risk.
While we have all age levels attending, ours is generally an older crowd and therefore our risk profile is greater than average. Since we have people coming from all over the state, if just one contagious person were there, not only might attendees get sick, but they might bring COVID-19 to areas that have been somewhat unaffected so far.
Yes, we would be outside and there is ample camping space to maintain social distancing. However, there would be no way to sanitize the porta-potties after every use or maintain social distancing on field trips or at the campfires.
As a result, we have made the not-so-easy decision to cancel for this year. We hope all of you continue to get out for walks in your neighborhoods to watch birds and enjoy nature.
Two of the organizing committee members have shared they are planning their own campout over Memorial Day weekend so that they may continue the tradition, though with a somewhat modified version. They are planning to set up tents in each of their own yards and then they are going to get on their phones and share stories of other Wenas campouts they have attended. What a great idea!
Please keep checking the Wenas website and Facebook page as we get closer to Memorial Day weekend. There is a possibility that we might be able to put together a virtual campfire program with a guest speaker.
In the meantime, Stay Home, Stay Healthy and we will see you Memorial Day weekend 2021.
At the end of March 2020, we as a country and the world are all in limbo. So as a result, our annual Wenas Camp Out as you can imagine is also in limbo. Optimistically, it will go on as scheduled. Your Wenas organizing committee is working on planning and lining up the events that you look forward to each year in the event that it can be held Memorial Day weekend as scheduled.
The campground and almost all the lands that we bird for Wenas are on DNR (Department of Natural Resources) property. Many of you already know that DNR has closed all of its nearly 6 million acres to the public through at least April 8, 2020. This link will give you the latest and updated information on DNR lands as we move forward.
As much as we would like Wenas to continue this year, our main concern is the health and safety of all its participants. With that being said, a decision on whether or not the Wenas Camp Out will go on this year is obviously pending. As new information becomes available, it will be posted on both the Wenas Facebook page and on this website.
The governor has implemented mandates for social distancing and for group gatherings and we must adhere to them. Even if those are lifted, if it is determined that it is not in the best interest for the health and safety for those attending or if the closure of DNR lands extends through the end of May, Wenas will be cancelled this year and notifications will go out as soon as possible. Much of the surrounding areas of Wenas are managed either by the US Forest Service or WDFW, who would also have to agree to lift restrictions to entry before Memorial Day.
The Wenas campout was a terrific success. We had just over 100 people attend all or part of the weekend. While the Saturday night rain chased a few campers away, most stayed and we had dry weather the rest of the weekend. In all, 13 Washington Audubon chapters were represented along with some Portland Audubon members. There were also a few people with no affiliation with any Audubon chapter.
Seattle Audubon sent 6 Young Birders, along with their two AmeriCorps chaperones. It was good to see their enthusiasm and energy. They said they would love to return next year. One alumnus of the Young Birders from 2018 spotted the best bird of the weekend, the Black-and-white Warbler. Because of him, many people were then able to also see it. The Black Canyon field trip was short a leader and the Young Birders stepped up and took over leading the trip.
We had good representation from the Native Plant Society who were generous in sharing their knowledge. This year we were able to bring back the wild flower field trips both Saturday and Sunday along with having the wildflower board for everyone to enjoy.
The Marcha de la Muerte, also known as the Death March, was offered both Saturday and Sunday. It was a success as the leader returned with all of the participants who started each morning. The Field Sketching held Saturday and Sunday was one of the most popular events. Both newcomers and more experienced sketchers had a great time learning about field sketching and learning different techniques. This year also brought back the field trip drive to higher elevations to locate birds not found elsewhere. Those willing to get up early, had an early morning bird walk that started at 5:30. Participants could also choose field trips to Hardy Canyon, Black Canyon, Wenas Lake, Dry Creek/Yellow Jacket Canyon, Wenas Creek Ranch, and along Wenas Creek. There were also opportunities to bird on your own around camp and elsewhere. Sunday afternoon Carolyn Comeau provided an ice cream social for youth and young adults.
At the Saturday evening program, Michelle Noe with Bats Northwest started us off talking about Washington bats and then gave us an update on white nose syndrome disease in bats. Jeff Kozma then followed up as the guest speaker. Jeff is a Timber, Fish and Wildlife Biologist, who works with Yakima Nation Fisheries. He talked about the life history of the White-headed Woodpecker and then spoke about his work banding the White-headed Woodpecker. It was very interesting, especially as that is the special bird of this campout.
Sunday evening’s program featured Kaeli Swift, Corvid expert. She has received her PhD from the University of Washington. She gave a fascinating talk on crows and their intelligence. She then spoke briefly about her research of Canada Jays in Denali National Park. This was the first year that we used a projector and were able to show the pictures and videos that Kaeli brought to share.
Helen Engle passed away in March of this year and Friday evening there was a tribute to her talking about the many contributions and organizations in the environmental world in Washington she was a part of. As a quote from her daughter said, “A mighty oak has fallen. She spread her branches really far. She touched so many people.” We are very sad to have her gone. She was still interested in the Wenas campout until a couple of weeks before she passed.
In 1993, commemorating the 30th anniversary of the Wenas campout, the featured speaker was Hazel Wolf. In honor of that, a portion of her speech that was recently discovered was read again. The points she made 26 years ago are still so valid today. A copy of her complete speech will be located on the Wenas website in the near future.
While we lost a portion of the area that we previously had camped in proximity to the Larrison Tree, everyone agreed that this will be a good thing. The riparian area has been damaged over the years and this will give it a chance to heal. Birding along Wenas creek will be even better than in the past. Birders are now able to walk along the creek from the meadow to the bridge, without having to walk through anyone’s camp.
We concluded our campout with a walk throughout the entire area from the bridge to the end of the campground, to pick up any litter and garbage that we could find. We always want to leave the area cleaner than it was when we arrived.
DNR worked with us and made the entry to the dispersed camp area very accessible and were working on it up to the weekend of the campout. While the changes made to the camping area, and the meeting and program area were impactful, everyone agreed that it was going to be good for the riparian area. After we left the campout, DNR came in on Wednesday and installed three concrete outhouses. One was placed near our program area, which will be a nice addition.
Everyone agreed the 2019 Audubon Wenas Campout was a success and are looking forward to coming back next year on Memorial Day weekend. We hope to see you then!