Larry LaRue

Larry LaRue: Longtime park volunteer keeps an eye on Point Defiance

VIDEO: Commuting to commune with nature

Tacoma senior Susan Greenwwod rides a bus to Point Defiance Park five days a week to walk with nature.
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Tacoma senior Susan Greenwwod rides a bus to Point Defiance Park five days a week to walk with nature.

Raised in Gig Harbor, the only daughter born sandwiched between two sons, Susan Greenwood remembers when her parents would take them all on family outings.

When they did, George and Mildred Greenwood would almost always go to the same place: Point Defiance Park.

“We all loved the park,” Susan Greenwood said. “There were so many things to see and do.”

Now 69, she may be as big a fan of the 760-acre park as anyone in the Puget Sound region. She has volunteered there since she retired in 2000, one of a dozen or so people who give their time patrolling one of the largest urban public parks in the country.

“It’s always special. I’m an outdoor person and Point Defiance has nice trails, birds, wildlife, the water,” she said. “It’s very peaceful. You get rid of all your stress there.”

Five days a week, Greenwood has breakfast in her downtown Tacoma apartment, then catches a bus to the park entrance.

I do random acts of kindness in the park.

Susan Greenwood

“I don’t drive,” she said. “The ride is about 30 minutes each way.”

Depending on the weather, her clothing ensemble will change. However, two things never do: She wears hiking boots and a green backpack. On average, she walks 25 to 30 miles a week in the park.

“I get off the bus, walk through the bowl area of the park, past the pond, then through the rhododendron garden to one of the three trails,” she said. “I carry binoculars, and if I hear a bird, I’ll stop and try to locate it.”

Greenwood used to carry a bird guide, now doesn’t bother. It’s rare she sees one she can’t identify.

“I see towhees, juncos, woodpeckers, chickadees. I often hear the eagles,” she said. “Every day is different. You never know what you’ll come across. I’ve seen great horned owls off the trails.”

She carries more than binoculars in the backpack.

“I carry pruners,” she said. “If something is hanging too low over the trail, I’ll trim it. If a tree is down across the trail, I’ll report it to the Metro Parks people, but I’ll try to trim anything small on the tree to let people pass.

“If I find downed branches and I can lift them, I just move them off the trail.”

That’s not all.

“If she finds trash, she picks it up and carries it to the next trash can,” said her friend, Peter Sluka. “And no matter what the weather is like, she eats her lunch there.”

Usually, Greenwood said, lunch is a small picnic alongside a trail in the woods.

Like Sluka, Greenwood is a Point Defiance volunteer, issued a bright yellow vest and a lanyard around her neck with ID. She rarely wears the vest.

“I think the color disturbs the birds,” she said.

Julie Parascondola, a Metro Parks regional manager, is in charge of Point Defiance Park.

“We have always had volunteers at the park,” Parascondola said. “It’s such a diverse park. We have tons of shoreline cleanup, garden clubs, people who walk with a garbage bag to pick up litter.

“There’s so much to do. It’s not just an athletic park, and it gets three million visitors a year.”

After the first of the year, it’s going to be like a block patrol in the park, neighbors looking out for neighbors.

Julie Parascondola

Metro Parks will bring back Point Defiance’s official Park Watch program after the first of the year, Parascondola said. All volunteers will get training on how to deal with everything from leash law scofflaws to people violating the no-alcohol policy.

“They want us to be the eyes of the park, report what we see,” Greenwood said. “They don’t want us involved in threatening situations.”

In the summer, Greenwood caught a 3:48 p.m. bus home each day. She changed her pattern after school resumed at the Science and Math Institute, the Tacoma public high school that’s contained inside the park.

“I took the bus and it was packed with kids getting out of school,” she said, laughing. “There were 10 conversations going on around me. After spending five hours listening to natural sounds in the park, it was too much for me.

“The next day, I started taking the 2:55 p.m. bus.”

It is remarkable that she takes a bus five days a week to the park, and eats her lunch there, regardless of weather.

Peter Sluka

Others at the park can be a handful, too.

“Three weeks ago, I was sitting on a bench enjoying a snack, and here was this little raccoon, begging,” she said. “I’d tell him ‘no,’ and he’d disappear and then his head would pop us someplace else. I finally had to leave.”

Larry LaRue: 253-597-8638

larry.larue@thenewstribune.com

@LarryLaRue

How to be a volunteer

If you’d like to learn more about volunteering at Point Defiance Park or learn more about the Park Watch program, email Metro Parks regional park manager Julie Parascondola at juliep@tacomaparks.com

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