Carol Smith firmly believes there’s something special about Pilot Butte State Scenic Viewpoint, a spirit there that inspires people.
Smith should know. For the past 10 years, she and her husband, Bill, have served as hosts at the park in the middle of Bend for part of each year. While living on-site, they clean bathrooms and pick up litter. But for them, there’s a lot more to it than those mundane tasks. Carol, who is often referred to as the Butte Lady or Butte Angel, spends hours walking up, down and around the butte each day, all the while greeting everyone she meets with a cheery smile and “Hi, honey!”
“Carol is a force, man. She is on that butte sun up to sun down,” said Josie Barnum, park ranger for Pilot Butte State Scenic Viewpoint.
Carol credits her walks on the butte with reducing her crippling migraines and helping relieve the symptoms of fibromyalgia, a condition of chronic and widespread pain. She has tallied as much as 600 miles a month walking up and down the butte.
“It’s been wonderful. It’s been really healing for us,” said Carol.
Carol also finds inspiration in the people she meets, many of whom are trying to help improve the park in some way. “People want to be involved; people want to volunteer,” she said. “I think it’s the spirit here.”
At the end of March, Bill and Carol will leave their posts as park hosts, which are volunteer positions. The Smiths served for about four months each year, and new park hosts will take their place.
Last year, they were named park hosts of the year for the entire state system. From 2008-13, Carol dedicated 9,477 hours and Bill 7,997 to the state parks, which Barnum says is probably the highest hour total for any volunteer in the state parks.
“Their dedication and devotion to the park has really impressed our staff and visitors,” said Barnum, who says when the Smiths are not around, people ask about them. “It’s the overwhelming love that people have for them that I appreciate. We don’t get that with all of our hosts,” said Barnum.
The primary reason Bill and Carol are leaving is to devote more time and energy to another passion — a nonprofit they formed last year to help improve the butte. “The trails are being loved to death,” said Carol. So although they won’t be cleaning bathrooms anymore, in many ways the Smiths will be serving the park even more.
“They’ll probably be able to do more for the park long term with that organization than they have as volunteers,” said Barnum.
Bill and Carol Smith, both 57, began hosting 10 years ago when both of them experienced fibromyalgia. Turns out, park hosting at Pilot Butte, Smith Rock and Silver Falls became a way for them to regain their health, as they credit the exposure to nature, exercise and interaction with people with their turnarounds.
Last year the Smiths wanted to do a little something extra to give back to the butte and the large community of people who visit the site each day (a recent estimate put the number at 900 people a day visiting the butte for fitness). They came up with an idea for a May event that would focus on people who walk the butte.
“It took off,” said Bill. “We couldn’t stop it,” added Carol.
Through word of mouth, people spread information about the event, called Simply My Best. Close to 400 people participated in 2013, and the event raised about $3,400, all of which will go to help fund projects to improve the butte.
Based on the event’s reception and the enthusiasm it generated, Carol and Bill decided to form a nonprofit, Pilot Butte Summit Seekers. The group has a board of directors and 140 members, who receive a newsletter with updates from the park. Kristin Kelso, treasurer for the group, says she was happy to join when Carol approached her to participate. She’s hoping to improve the trails and help control erosion and perhaps develop an off-leash area for dogs. Kelso calls Carol very gregarious, with an infectious personality. “They are two very loving, very energetic people.”
After the success of Simply My Best, Bill and Carol came to a realization. “How can we host and do all of this at the same time?” asked Bill. The answer was, they couldn’t. “We never expected it would turn out this way,” said Carol.
People who come to the butte on a regular basis — and there are many — often want to find ways to improve the area. The Smiths know of a number of individuals and groups that have sprung into action. There’s a group that shows up each Friday morning to work on the trails. The Pilot Butte Partners are another group dedicated to helping maintain the butte. There’s an 80-something-year-old man who made it his mission to pick up litter every day, to the point where litter became less of a problem. “It boggles your mind, what he’s done,” said Bill. He speaks fondly of a man who died, who used to kick rocks off the trails so runners wouldn’t trip. Or another woman who served as a cheerleader, offering encouraging words and cheers for those who were struggling to make it up the hill. There’s another volunteer who has focused on hanging boxes for bluebirds, trying to bring them to the butte.
“It’s like that here. People are trying to just be helpful,” said Bill.
Simply My Best
The event is a little complicated to explain. It’s relaxed, free form. Individuals (and dogs) can participate in the all-day affair by walking any of the butte’s trails and keeping track of how far they go and how fast they do so. Each mile traveled and each personal best reached by an individual (distance or time) helps earn money. A local business, let’s say, might volunteer to kick in $300 once the group collectively walked 300 miles, or when a certain number of people reached a personal-best goal. Last year, individuals racked up more than 600 miles and 60 percent of participants reached a personal best.
Barnum believes Simply My Best will draw a large crowd when it takes place May 10; she says it’s generating a lot of buzz. She believes this event is a great fit for the users of the park, compared with a race. “Not everyone is capable of running up the butte. … It’s more a positive idea for some people,” said Barnum.
Those who participate can vote on which projects they most want to see accomplished at the butte. Bill and Carol work as go-betweens with Oregon State Parks to try to get those wishes met. Last year, this led to the bathroom lock at the top of the butte getting replaced.
Perhaps the biggest success in Bill’s mind was a reflection of the spirit of the people involved. Bill and Carol had signed on to haul away all of the trash after the event, but they found that many people took their trash home with them. In the end, after attracting more than 400 people, the event had generated just three small bags of trash. Everybody they saw that day, too, was staying on trails and keeping dogs on leashes. “Everybody was following all of the rules,” said Bill.
The overall challenge for the nonprofit will be to raise enough money and to develop a plan to try to combat erosion and improve trails on the butte. From the state park’s point of view, Pilot Butte is classified as a scenic viewpoint, not as a center for fitness, according to Bill. Focusing on that fitness aspect will be a goal of the Summit Seekers. Bill hopes the group can develop a five-year master plan of projects to tackle.
Barnum says rogue trails on the butte are a problem, as people carve their own pathways and then others follow. These can be dangerous and cause erosion.
Bill and Carol plan to return to Smith Rock State Park at some point and will likely host again. Later this year, they plan to travel to Alaska to go tent camping for two months in Denali National Park. Carol loves grizzly bears and has spotted dozens during the couple’s previous two-month stints to the area. “It was like grizzly heaven,” said Carol.
But before that, while planning for Simply My Best kicks into high gear, the couple will move their RV out of Pilot Butte State Scenic Viewpoint at the end of March and to a local RV park. Bill is excited about the hot tub and weight room. They admit it will be odd to no longer serve as hosts.
“Your identity is kind of wrapped up in that job,” said Bill. The good news is the couple is excited to move forward: “We really like what we’re moving on to.”
— Reporter: 541-617-7860, firstname.lastname@example.org