Volunteer finds fun in snowshoe tours

Sunriver man among more than a dozen interpretive rangers at Mount Bachelor

By Dylan J. Darling / The Bulletin

One question often comes up from people interested in taking a free, guided snowshoe hike with Interpretive Ranger Bob Burpee at Mount Bachelor: “Can I do this?”

His response: “Well, there is only one way to find out.”

Soon he has them strapping on snowshoes and hiking. One of more than a dozen snowshoe tour volunteers with the Deschutes National Forest, Burpee, 74, has been leading snowshoe outings for more than a decade. The 90-minute tour — offered weather-permitting on weekends until spring — starts with 10 minutes of chatting about snowshoes and how to be comfortable using them.

“We try to eliminate that anxiety before we even get on snowshoes,” he said. People with their own snowshoes are also welcome to join a tour.

Weekend snowshoe tours started Saturday and are set to continue on weekends and during school breaks until late March, according to the Deschutes National Forest. The national forest teams up with Mt. Bachelor ski area and Discover Your Forest to offer the tours. Tours are free, with donations accepted.

A transplant to Central Oregon from the San Francisco Bay Area, Burpee said he had skied but did not try snowshoeing until after retirement in 2002. After a 41-year career in insurance and financial services, Burpee moved to Central Oregon year-round in 2004.

He and his wife McKenzie Burpee had owned a house in Sunriver for decades and decided to make Central Oregon their permanent home. McKenzie Burpee fought kidney disease and the area was good for her, both in terms of the quality of health care and the benefits of the fresh air and clear water, Bob Burpee said. She died this summer at age 70 but lived longer than doctors expected, living for 16 years on dialysis. Before she died, the couple made a donation to the St. Charles Foundation to help with a revamp of the St. Charles dialysis center completed in late 2012.

Along with caring for his wife, Burpee looked for a way to be involved with people and be outdoors during his retirement. He discovered the volunteer opportunity with the Deschutes National Forest and found snowshoeing to be easily approachable and enjoyable.

“There is no learning curve. It is not like skiing,” Burpee said. “If you can walk, you can snowshoe.”

Covering about three-fourths of a mile, the snowshoe tour skirts the Cinder Cone on Mount Bachelor’s northern flank and encompasses six stops. The stops include a viewpoint of the nearby Three Sisters.

“You just get a different perspective on the mountains and forest and all that,” he said.

Each stop includes a short talk, with topics ranging from wildlife to volcanic legacy to more recent history. Each tour averages 25 to 30 people, and about 5,000 people total take part in the weekend and school tours each year .

“It’s very, very popular,” Burpee said. The weekend tours are for people age 10 and up. Burpee and other volunteers also lead weekday programs for schools and other groups, which make reservations.

Part of the popularity comes from volunteers like Burpee, who lead the line of snowshoers through the woods. He said he and the other interpretive rangers try to make the talks fun.

“The idea is to get people involved, get the kids involved and make it a dialogue instead of a monologue,” Burpee said.

During the summer, Burpee also volunteers at Pine Marten Lodge at Mt. Bachelor Ski Area and Lava Lands Visitor Center at Lava Butte, also giving talks and leading tours. The commitment takes about 14 hours per week during the winter and more in the summer. Burpee said he enjoys both volunteer posts.

“And the bonus is you meet a lot of nice people,” Burpee said. “The people literally come from all over the world.”

— Reporter: 541-617-7812, ddarling@bendbulletin.com

The Deschutes National Forest, Mt. Bachelor ski area and Discover Your Forest plan to offer snowshoe tours Saturdays and Sundays until March 29 as weather allows. Tours are also offered during weekdays during school breaks.

Lasting about 90 minutes, the tours start at 10 a.m. and 1:30 p.m., beginning and ending at the Forest Service snowshoe hut in Mt. Bachelor’s West Village.

Tourgoers must be 10 or older and wear warm clothes and boots. No prior experience is necessary and snowshoes are provided. Tours are free, with donations accepted. Schools and other organizations may be arrange weekday tours.

For more information call 541-383-4055. To schedule a group tour call 541-383-4771 or email Karen Gentry, director of education and volunteer program for Discover Your Forest, at karen.gentry@discovernw.org.

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