By Elaine Friesen-Strang
As the award season is getting under way, it is not surprising there is one deserving winner who is picking up multiple honors. In the walkability world, Don Baack's name is well known; his positive spirit, innovation, and persistence has improved pedestrian accessibility and safety in Portland. Largely due to his leadership, SW Portland now offers 40 continuous miles of well mapped trails, connecting people with nature and each other.
Don says it all began about 20 years ago when his wife, a school counselor, brought home a stray dog. Accompanied by Siskiyou, a golden lab, Don set out on walks in his SW neighborhood, a community without sidewalks or organized trail system. A retired civil engineer, Don saw "a fabulous opportunity" to connect walking routes in individual neighborhoods. He became the founder and president of SW Trails PDX, a non-profit organization that promotes biking and walking. Today, this group has an email list of 1300 people, with 100 paid members as well as paid sponsors. They sponsor monthly hikes, organize volunteer work parties to build and maintain trails, and work with city, county, and state planners to develop biking/walking opportunities. (Check out SWTrails website.)
In November, Don received the Sandy Diedrich Environmental Steward Award at the Spirit of Portland Awards. Later in the month, he was presented with the Weston Legacy Award at the Oregon Walks Annual Weston Awards. Don was recognized for his work with SW Trails and for being a citizen leader, having served as President of the Hillsdale Neighborhood Association and long time advocate on the Portland Pedestrian Advisory Committee. Don is quick to extend credit to others, saying "those of us doing the building have developed a great sense of community". He is pleased with the SW Walking Map and thankful the City of Portland has accepted the idea that, given the need for cost saving factors and urgency to promote pedestrian safety, sometimes extended shoulders can substitute for sidewalks.
A volunteer for AARP, Don knows livable communities need options for safe, pleasurable walking. He says "People love to be outside. We all seek solitude, but finding solitude in a large city is difficult. The trails system of SW Portland provides miles of this opportunity." He also knows communities need citizens who are willing to step up and play an active role in improving their neighborhoods. What advice does he have for others who want to make a difference? "Get organized, try to bring everyone along, be very persistent, do not make more enemies than necessary, do not be afraid to speak out. Tell the King or Queen they have no clothes when it is needed. Have fun doing what you are doing". Don may be the volunteer receiving the awards, but we are all winners because of his efforts.
Welcome to Livable Oregon.
What makes a community livable? What do neighborhoods need to help people of all ages live active, engaged lives? Livable Oregon explores the features of age-friendly communities, the people who help create them, and what we can do to make our neighborhoods in Oregon a great place for everyone.
This blog takes its lead from the AARP Livable Communities Initiative which seeks to improve the quality of life for older adults by promoting the development of safe, accessible, and vibrant environments. AARP Livable Communities policies address issues such as land use, housing, and transportation which are vital to developing communities that facilitate aging in place.
About our lead blogger:
My name is Elaine Friesen-Strang. I understand the need for lifelong, livable communities as a mother who raised two children, a daughter who helped care for her father, a professional guardian who served adults with developmental disabilities, and a woman who is experiencing the mixed blessings of aging. Volunteering for AARP empowers me to help make my neighborhood and city a more livable, sustainable place for people of all ages.