Founder of SW Trails honored with Spirit of Portland award

On the evening of Nov. 6, Hillsdale resident Don Baack was presented the Sandy Diedrich Environmental Stewardship Award at the 30th annual Spirit of Portland awards ceremony.Photo Credit: PAMPLIN MEDIA GROUP FILE PHOTO: L.E. BASKOW - Don Baack, founder of SW Trails and recent recipient of the Sandy Diedrich Environemental Steward Award.

According to the city of Portland Office of Neighborhood Involvement, which administers the award, award recipients are chosen based on any of the following criteria:

? Assisting in the implementation of outstanding projects

? Enriching and revitalizing our community and neighborhoods

? Providing the community with a special service

? Demonstrating responsiveness, creativity and civic values

? Raising cross-cultural awareness

? Acting as good steward of the environment

Baack, however, could be viewed as meeting all six of those criteria. The 77-year-old is the founder and president of SWTrails PDX, aka SW Trails, a nonprofit organization and community group that promotes walking and biking in Southwest Portland by:

? Organizing group hikes and sponsor a regular monthly hike

? Staffing volunteer crews build and maintain trails in Southwest Portland

? Working with city, county and state planners to develop new walking biking opportunities in Southwest Portland, and

? Advocating for more resources for these two alternative modes of transportation and recreation.

When asked what winning this award signified to him, Baack said, “recognition of a major effort by a group of people — SW Trails folks — in working towards improving pedestrian and bicycle environment in Southwest.”

Indeed, at the award ceremony, “We had about 15 people there supporting us,” he said.

The Sandy Diedrich Environmental Stewardship Award, as its name suggests, is awarded to Portland environmental stewards. But what does supporting travel on foot and by bike via routes previously inaccessible to pedestrians have to do with environmental stewardship?

“I think it’s fair to say that (as a result of SW Trails) the walkability of Southwest has improved greatly, and it’s helped people be able to connect with nature, because most of our trail routes connect to nature areas,” Baack said. “Also, the trails group has worked on improving the environmental area. ... We’ve had a project we’ve been working on at Wilson for some time in terms of improving the landscaping there. ... We organize walks that helps people get out and see the community.”

And it would seem that Baack and his fellow trail-enthusiast environmental stewards will be able to continue their work for a long time to come; the short-term, at least is guaranteed.

“Mayor Hales tells me we got $10,000 budgeted for the vote that’s coming up next month that will give us funds to do a Safe Route to School for Robert Gray (Middle School) between Bertha (Boulevard) and Beaverton-Hillsdale Highway, following up with a bridge.” (EDITOR’S NOTE: For more information on this development, see story on Page 14.)

While Baack is its founder and serves as its ambassador, he is adamant that SW Trails is a quintessential team effort.

“SW Trails has an email list of 1,300 people, and we have 100 paid members, and quite a few sponsors; sponsors pay $100 a month or more,” he said. “I’m just a fortunate recipient of this largesse.”

SW Trails sponsors a walk every second Saturday of the month at 9 a.m. at the west entrance to Wilson High School, 1151 SW Vermont Ave., and meets monthly, generally on the fourth Thursday of the month, at 7 p.m. at The Watershed At Hillsdale, 6388 SW Capitol Highway, to discuss walking and biking in Southwest Portland. For more information on SW Trails or to join, sign up for the mailing list or become a sponsor, visit

By Drew Dakessian
503-636-1281, ext. 108
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