An artist’s brush is like a treasure hunt where each stroke is a revealing clue that can lead you somewhere new.
I learned that on a chance encounter with wildlife artist and La Grande resident, Jan Clark, whom I met at the Foot Hill Road Viewpoint within the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife’s Ladd Marsh Wildlife Area.
Clark is a local artist from La Grande who arrived in the area more than 30 years ago and she never left.
She fell in love with the scenery, the wetlands and the wildlife and now she paints it all – every chance she gets.
“Well, I simply love it all, especially the Wallowa Mountains in the background,” noted Clark. “Plus, it’s usually just quiet out here, really quiet – except maybe for the birds.”
In the silence – broken only by the rough sound of her brush across the canvas – it seemed as though you could reach out and touch the wetlands, the wildlife and the history of the Grande Ronde Valley.
State wildlife biologist, Cathy Nowak, said that 50 years ago you would not have seen much bird life or much wildness because it had all disappeared.
“At one time, the valley had about 40,000 acres of wetlands in it,” noted Nowak. “But that was before settlement – by the 1950’s, there were just a couple hundred acres that had not been drained for agriculture. So, the chance to see any wildlife was a pretty rare event in those days.”
That began to change in when the first Wildlife Area Manager, Bill Brown, developed the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife’s Ladd Marsh Wildlife Area (name for nearby Ladd Creek.)
Brown’s first purchase was nearly 300 acres.
Today, there are more than 6,000 acres and half of that is in wetlands and marshland.
Today, ODFW Ladd Marsh Manager, Dave Larson, noted that the site is the largest protected marsh in northeast Oregon.
“At one time we had a lot of support from the hunting community,but now that we are opening up the wildlife viewing and a new Auto tour Route, we’re seeing a lot more support from folks who travel here to look at wildlife. And they come from all over too.”
The Ladd Marsh Auto Tour Route is a little over a mile long but there are also six miles of hiking trails that take you into the wetlands for close up views to more than 225 different bird and other wildlife species – perhaps deer, elk – even antelope.
Speaking of watching wildlife - don’t leave home without the binoculars, they make a big difference enjoying the show.
You can also enjoy a unique event called the “Ladd Marsh Birdathon” that is held each year in mid-May.
All of the trails are open with experts: artists, teachers and biologists on hand to teach you more about what you are seeing – plus, many exhibits and children’s activities that are set up too.
Nowak added that it is a fun and educational weekend outdoor experience:
“It is not competitive, it’s a celebration – a celebration of the birds, bird watching and the outdoors. It is an exciting time of year with migrating species moving through, plus the babies are hatching everywhere across the wildlife area. You can see something new everyday.”