Reaching the CREST
When people in the West Linn-Wilsonville area hear Bob Carlson's name, they might immediately associate him with the Center for Research in Environmental Sciences and Technologies (CREST) in Wilsonville.
After all, it is his legacy — a center filled with outdoor opportunities he has brought to life with his own initiative, and a place he will leave behind in just four short months.
Carlson, director at CREST, will be retiring Oct. 31, "dressing up as a retired person," he said.
"I want to go out loving it," Carlson said. "To be honest, trying to go at the same pace I did when I was younger (is difficult) because there are so many different kinds of programs and I don't have assistance."
While Carlson is most known for his work with CREST, he is no stranger in the WL-WV schools and with the City of Wilsonville. He has been with the district for about 27 years, working as a classroom teacher, environmental science educator and director at CREST. He's also led numerous summer camps and environmental science programs in the community.
"When I think of CREST, I think of Bob Carlson," said Boones Ferry fifth-grade teacher Rachel Nelson, adding that she was taught by Carlson when she was at Sunset and then worked as a camp counselor and eventually made her way to co-director of the EnviroCamp with Carlson — a summer camp at CREST. "He's truly amazing and I feel so lucky that I was not only taught by him, but got to work with him and see him as a mentor in my eyes."
Nelson said she will miss his energy and enthusiasm for teaching children.
"The way he teaches is not just to stand up in front of everybody and talk, he gets down and explores and is just as engaged as all the kids," she said. "His excitement, joy and curiosity is so infectious and the kids would follow suit in that. It was inspiring to watch."
And that's simply because Carlson said he loves his job.
"I love being outside, showing kids tadpoles, getting them to notice nature and doing adventurous things," Carlson said. "I love what I do."
Carlson's passion for the outdoors stems from his childhood.
"I'm a native Oregonian. My grandparents live at the coast so I spent a lot of time on the Oregon coast and my other grandparents had a farm on Skyline so I spent a lot of my childhood doing that," he said. "I just wanted to share my passion about the environment and about nature with other people."
But Carlson didn't grow up thinking he wanted to be a teacher. In high school he had an influential biology teacher who engrained in Carlson the importance of sustainability and taking care of Earth.
"He helped instill the idea that there are some problems with (Earth) and we need to take care of it because it's fragile, important and resources are limited," Carlson said. "He was influential in my desire to make a difference in my community."
Carlson then went to Oregon State University and was interested in the recreational side of forestry. He toyed with the idea of becoming a forest ranger but said the forestry industry was tanking back in 1979 and he questioned if it was something he really wanted to do.
After his first year, he took a break and traveled to Europe for a couple months and returned to Washington County to work with the outdoor school program.
"That's really where I found out, 'Hey, this has the things about forestry that I like: being outdoors, getting exercise, learning about trees, plants and all that sort of stuff, but it has an educational component,'" Carlson said. "I like
to help people learn and
found out that I really enjoyed that."
His gears quickly shifted and Carlson finished his schooling at University of Oregon and received a bachelor's degree in teaching. He later received his master's in curriculum and instruction with a science emphasis at Lewis and Clark College.
After graduating U of O, Carlson did some traveling, taught environmental education and worked as a primary classroom teacher in Eugene for four years before coming to the WL-WV School District. He was also involved with the City of Wilsonville, and served the school district in a plethora of ways. Carlson was a classroom teacher at the former Wilsonville Primary — the precursor to Boones Ferry — and then Sunset Primary. He created several environmental science programs for students that involved stream restoration and other science activities and worked with the City of Wilsonville, teaching a program called "Forest, Farm and Stream." He also did grant research because the Parks and Recreation Department was interested in developing an environmental education center, although he said it became clear it wasn't possible for the City. In addition, Carlson did direct service with children in Memorial Park and other projects for the City, like starting the community gardens.
But Carlson's work with CREST blossomed after an unfortunate situation.
When Carlson was teaching at Sunset, the former Wilsonville Primary had an environmental hazard that the school district wasn't aware of. Polychlorinated Biphenyls (PCBs) — toxic chemicals that work as a coolant — were dripping from classroom light fixtures. The school district responded by removing the fixtures from all the schools and temporarily placing them on a tarp on Stafford Primary's playground.
The Environmental Protection Agency's intent was to fine the school district about $300,000 for improperly handling the hazard. The superintendent at the time discovered the district could work off the fine by doing environmental good like opening a science/environmental education center for two years. And around that time the school district had purchased the current CREST headquarters property in Wilsonville because Boones Ferry was being built next door, so the space was available.
"I had already done that kind of work for the school district when I was working for the City doing 'Forest, Farm and Stream' and when I had a classroom," he said. "I did a lot of environmental education stuff with the kids so they came to me and said, 'Can you help us write a proposal to EPA for what we could do?' ... It's exactly what I had wanted to do in the first place."
And because of the low cost due to grants, donations, volunteers and the success of getting WL-WV schools involved with CREST in a variety of ways, the program expanded and still thrives today.
Highlights from Carlson's time at CREST include working with teachers to develop ways to get students outdoors, creating gardens and the orchard on the three-acre site, getting the farm site up and running and providing internship opportunities for students in WL-WV's Adult Transition Program. Carlson said he also liked working with and bouncing fresh ideas off of AmeriCorps volunteers at CREST before the AmeriCorps program switched focus to underserved populations.
And because Carlson enjoys exploring the outdoors, he developed adventure camps that include rafting, kayaking, rock climbing and other activities for middle school students.
But Carlson's energy didn't falter when he spoke about his retirement plans.
"I've always played soccer so I want to get involved in a master's soccer program for people over 58," he said, adding that he wants to work on his home garden, which has 1.5-acres of native plant areas, vegetables and fruit trees.
Carlson's plans don't stop there.
His love for travel will eventually lead him to ride bikes in Spain and kayak in Alaska, among other destinations. But he will continue to work with children in some capacity and do volunteer work.
As for the future of CREST after Carlson's retirement, the school district hasn't decided yet.
"I'm excited and curious to see where CREST is going and I hope it goes down a good path," Nelson said.