An artist’s brush is like a treasure hunt where each stroke is a revealing clue that can lead you somewhere new. For me, it was 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.
Jan Clark is a local artist from La Grande who arrived in the area more than 30 years ago and never left. She fell in love with the scenery, the wetlands and the wildlife and now she paints it all – every chance she gets. In the silence – broken only by the rough sound of her brush across the canvas – it felt 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.
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, the Ladd Marsh Bird Festival, held the third weekend in 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.