Douglas County: A family dedicates its forested land as a haven for local youth to experience nature.

Douglas County is a land of sweeping, emerald forests and numerous salmon streams pouring into the fabled Umpqua River. Growing up among such beauty, it’s difficult to imagine how young people could lose a sense of place. But such is the case among many Douglas County kids, who have fewer opportunities than their parents to play, learn or work outside.

No one knows this better than Jim Proctor, who grew up on his family’s forested property near Canyonville in southern Douglas County.

“You would think in Douglas County that kids have a lot of outdoor experience, but that is just not the case,” says Proctor, who is a professor and director of the environmental studies program at Lewis and Clark College.

Today, Jim and his family have dedicated their land to the area’s young people—many of whom face poverty or will struggle to complete high school—so that they may explore the same forests Jim did as a child.

“The schools were good to me and my family,” he says. “Alder Creek Community Forest is our way to give back, and to give other kids the opportunity to learn to love learning.”

Alder Creek Community Forest provides an 80-acre haven for kids to get outside and experience the place they call home. In 2015, the organization logged 5,000 student hours in the forest. Many students are repeat visitors—a sign that the program is making real headway.

With support from the Gray Family Foundation, Alder Creek Community Forest hired two school coordinators and launched new curriculum called Our Place on Earth. Rooted in the worldwide GLOBE geography education program, it features hands-on lessons outside combined with the use of maps and digital technology to expand students’ understanding of the region and globe.

But geography goes beyond maps. It’s about making connections and imagining new possibilities in your own backyard and beyond.

“People who live here have seen this place go through big changes,” Jim says. “We hope the people who choose to stay here learn to love and understand this place, and make better decisions to help this place move in fruitful ways.”