Outdoor Program History
Eugene has always been a community that enjoyed its relationship with nature. With so many outdoor resources in all directions, it is easy to get active in the Oregon outdoors.
It was in the 1960s that the City of Eugene recognized the importance of creating more access for its residents in outdoor recreation. In 1966, while operating out of the Washington Park Community Center, the Outdoor Environmental Program, sponsored by the Eugene Register Guard, created its first Outdoor Class guide. The first outdoor offerings included classes such as Backing Packing Basics, Survival Skills, Mountaineering and Campfire Leadership.
In the mid 1970s as part of the Eugene Parks and Recreation Division, Mel Jackson became the first Manger of the Outdoor Environmental Program. With Mel’s leadership, the Adams Street farm house, sitting in a beautiful location next to the Willamette River, was converted from a storage site to an operational facility that became the River House Outdoor Program.
A few years later, Mel was able to use the resources of the University of Oregon to build the “Canoe Barn” that still houses all the boats & equipment used today.
The 1980s saw the program grow in both the quantity of program opportunities and the quality of outdoor instruction. Whether you were whitewater rafting, sailing or skiing, you were being exposed to the quality program leadership that has continued to be a mainstay in program services at the River House Outdoor Program.
The beautiful Spencer Butte Challenge Course was added to the River House program in 1995, continuing to add to the diversity and quality of experiences that Eugene residents are able to access. The 1990s saw an increased focus on experiential education for community partners that accessed and shared the resources that the River House offered.
This focus was primarily targeted at youth groups and nonprofit agencies and eliminated the barriers that prevented these youth from experiencing outdoor adventures. Community partners continue to be a key ingredient in the success of the River House as a service provider.
The Spirit of Eugene
Youth and family services continue to be a primary focus of the River House as it begins the new millennium. Teen Challenge and Team Adventure are programs that specifically serve youth and their families in out-of-school time activities. The most popular summer youth camps are white water kayaking, and groups of older Eugene citizens are enjoying the new 29’ foot canoe, “The Spirit of Eugene.”
Over the past 40 years, thousands of Eugene citizens have met at the River House and hauled canoes, kayaks, rafts and sailboats out of the barn to head to the outdoors for an afternoon, a weekend, an extended trip or a lifetime of outdoor adventure.
Program Staff at the River House
- Melinda Vega, Office Coordinator, 541-682-6320
- Andy Clifford, Senior Programmer & Site Manager, 541-682-6323
- Robert Brack, Program Supervisor – Spencer Butte Challenge Course, 541-682-6324
- Zane Wheeler, Program Assistant, 541-682-6321