Gnomes are hiding in Lake Oswego parks!
Perhaps you've seen them at a recent volunteer stewardship event, or on a walk through one of Lake Oswego's parks. Their red hats and jolly faces make them difficult to miss.
They're "Stewardship Gnomes" — Greenie, Blossom and Oak are their names —and they're part of an initiative from the Lake Oswego Parks & Recreation Department aimed at promoting community involvement with the city's parks and stewardship programs.
The three characters appear on tags placed in various Lake Oswego parks on a rotating basis, encouraging visitors to return each month to locate them in their newest hideouts. In April, for example, the three hid out in Springbrook, River Run and Freepons parks.
Finding the gnomes has become a popular activity for groups of preschoolers, as well as park visitors of all ages. Passersby who find the gnomes are encouraged to take pictures of themselves in front of them and share the images on social media with the hashtag #loparksgnomes.
"These Stewardship Gnomes love to hide, but secretly they can't wait to be found and pose for an Instagram post," says Lake Oswego Parks Stewardship Coordinator Babs Hamachek.
Hamachek says the idea for the gnomes began more than a year ago, when she and Parks Crew Leader Megan Big John were brainstorming ideas for how to get younger participants involved in Lake Oswego's stewardship events.
The events and work parties are a key aspect of the stewardship program, which works to maintain the health of Lake Oswego's parks and open spaces by removing invasive species, replanting native species and maintaining the areas that have already been restored.
"We came up with the idea of, 'Wouldn't it be cool to have a gnome hidden in the park?'" Hamachek says.
The stewardship program is run by City staff, but most of the boots-on-the-ground work is undertaken by groups of volunteers. So when it came time to advertise the next event, the stewardship staff included a picture of a gnome in hopes of drawing a big crowd.
The ad got a strong response, Hamachek says, and the group realized they were on to something. They asked the City's graphic designer, Dave Arpin, to design three gnome characters, and he came up with a trio representing a range of demographics — all the people who can help out at stewardship events.
Staff hosted a "Name the Gnomes" contest at the Farmers Market in May 2017, and a committee of judges ultimately selected the names Oak, Greenie and Blossom from hundreds of entries. Like the gnomes themselves, the names were chosen with an eye for diversity — Blossom was suggested by a grade-schooler, Oak by a middle-schooler and Greenie by a senior citizen.
The winning names were revealed at the City's volunteer appreciation barbecue at Luscher Farm in July, where Parks staff hung hundreds of cutouts of the gnomes around the farm's trees and bushes.
"People went crazy finding the gnomes," Hamachek says, "and again we were like, 'OK, this is something bigger than it started off as.'"
Staff began incorporating the gnomes into the stewardship program in subsequent months, seeking out volunteers to arrive before work parties and hide the gnomes around the site. The addition proved to be hugely popular among the stewardship volunteers, and Hamachek says the discovery of a gnome can often serve as an educational opportunity when a volunteer finds a gnome hiding on a native plant.
"Our program has been pretty similar for the past several years, so this brought something new to it," Hamachek says.
In April of this year, Hamachek began hiding the gnomes in parks throughout the city for regular visitors to find. Nine cutouts in total — one of each of the trio in three different parks — are hidden at a time.
For the month of May, the gnomes have been hiding in Iron Mountain Park, Woodmont Park and Cooks Butte Park; they'll be jumping to three new locations on June 1, and then to a new set of destinations in July.
"Once we get visitors connected to these natural park areas, our hope is they'll want to return to the parks and volunteer at upcoming stewardship work parties," Hamachek says.
Each of the gnomes has their own page on the City's website, with details such as their favorite native species and recent native birds that they've seen in the Lake Oswego area. Residents can visit ci.oswego.or.us/parksrec/find-stewardship-gnomes-nature to learn more about each gnome and their current whereabouts.
The website also includes information and registration pages for upcoming park stewardship opportunities.
The gnomes have also begun to pop up at other events, such as the Farmers Market and summer concerts, and Hamachek says the Parks & Rec Department has added gnome tattoos, stickers, coloring sheets and raffle baskets to various events.
The gnomes are also being noticed more frequently in Lake Oswego's parks, often by groups of children but also by everyday park visitors.
"One thing I adore is all the grandparents taking their grandkids on these gnome hunts," Hamachek says. "It's really interactive and multi-generational."