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First Tech’s Eric Mitchell brings a new generation of nature lovers to Hoyt Arboretum

 

Young girl outside looking up

Hoyt Arboretum is a sprawling patch of outdoor solitude within the bustling city of Portland. Sitting atop the Southwest hills above downtown, Hoyt Arboretum is home to 2,300 species of trees and shrubs from around the world. 

The variety of conifers and other unique trees was the first thing that drew First Tech Vice President of Insurance, Eric Mitchell, to Hoyt Arboretum. Eric moved to Portland after college—where he studied botany and biology—and discovered the secluded slice of nature soon after he settled in the city.

“I still try to get up there at least once a month when I just need to walk and think,” Eric said.

When he started working at First Tech in 2015, Eric picked up volunteering with a group that called themselves the ‘Tuesday Crew’. The Tuesday Crew had already been cleaning and tending to the park grounds together every Tuesday morning for many years, and it gave Eric a way to join others who loved the park and wanted to show their appreciation.

Not long after he started volunteering, Eric turned his focus towards inspiring a new generation of nature lovers in Portland. At the time, the Hoyt Arboretum was nurturing a new program that helped schools and youth groups visit the park and tour the grounds.

It turned out to be a perfect opportunity for Eric, who began serving as a Naturalist on the youth tours. He also joined the board of directors for Hoyt Arboretum Friends a few years later.

“It’s really cool to be able to introduce kids to the park,” he said. “People think of Portland and they think everyone is outdoorsy, but a lot of kids here haven’t had the opportunity to enjoy nature. Many kids see the park as a wilderness and are excited to see animals that many of us take for granted like birds and squirrels. It’s fun to see.”

In fall of 2017, components of the national science curriculum were incorporated into the Hoyt Arboretum youth programs by grade level, a change that was well received by local teachers. Eric remembers a local teacher telling him the following spring that ‘you cannot replicate a visit to the Hoyt Arboretum by talking about trees or ecology in a classroom.’ By 2019, Hoyt Arboretum had 4,000 children a year visiting the park as part of the program. Unfortunately, the events of 2020 forced Hoyt Arboretum to pause their emerging youth program, as well as all of their other volunteer partnerships.

At the same time, interest from adult first-time visitors to the park grew. It seemed as though plenty of people were still seeking outdoor solitude during the pandemic. Now, Hoyt Arboretum is preparing to build up their youth and volunteer programs once again, with a renewed focus on introducing the park to people who have had limited access in the past.

“The pause brought about by the pandemic has allowed Hoyt Arboretum Friends to take a fresh look at the forest experience we offer to students. This winter we will engage a teacher advisory committee so we can ensure we are offering educational programs that are culturally relevant to the Portland area’s diverse students. “

To learn more about how to visit the Hoyt Arboretum, upcoming events, and ways to get involved, visit the Hoyt Arboretum website.

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