Confessions of Parks Planner

By Ben Tolles

“You shouldn’t put a park here! It’s going to increase traffic! I think we need more tennis courts instead of a soccer field. Young hooligans will hide and do drugs in that pavilion. I love the idea of building new parks but I’m NOT paying more taxes. Those neighbors are going to be pissed.”

“Thank you for all your help protecting this tree! The soccer club will really benefit from the plan you are putting together. My children will love the plan for a nature park rather than a typical jungle gym. Scappoose is becoming a better place to live because of your work.”

I hear this all day long. It’s when I’m leading the parks and recreation committee. It’s an unsolicited phone call about someone who read about the Parks Master Plan. It’s an email asking me to consider not building any parks because the Salmon’s habitat needs a 200ft protective buffer.

For whatever reason parks are a hot topic. Everyone wants them but they don’t want to pay the taxes necessary to build them, and they sure as hell don’t want the park built next to them.  My job in Scappoose is to help figure out a path forward while balancing support and opposition. For now, that means finishing up the Parks Master Plan that the past RARE participant started. He wrote most of the plan, but I’m putting the finishing touches on it. Unfortunately these “finishing touches” are proving to be more difficult than I would have thought. It involves creating a capital improvement plan for seven different future parks AND planning an annual town meeting around it.

But I love it. I’m a salesperson for parks.

“You drive into the parking lot and take a right to follow the one way road. You round the end of the lot and park at the first spot on your right, facing the park. As you exit the car you are looking through large Maple trees that have grown up to shade the parking area. To your left you see a field that kids are using to practice soccer next to the huge Heritage Oak Tree. The kids have stashed their stuff beneath the tree, and a few kids are sitting in its shade drinking water. You head left towards the South Scappoose Creek. You make a quick stop at the pavilion and notice people celebrating a wedding shower. It has a great view. You can see the river, and countless people walking the path along its edge reading beneath a tree or splashing around in the water. Across the river is Veteran’s park where a pickup softball game is being played. After admiring the view for a second, you too head down the hill following a gravel path to join your friends enjoying a swim.”

If only everyone could see that. Right now I am a salesperson for the parks, as well as the planner behind them. It’s a great mix of technical planning expertise and community engagement. I deal with zoning, and engineering to find the plan that doesn’t violate city code, and is within the financial budget of the city. I also get to engage committee members and allow them to engage in the creative process. Not everything the dream up is possible (one committee member suggested a zip line), but I take what is feasible and try to make it happen

I love working in Scappoose. It’s challenging when I get yelled at, but I know that once the dust settles and (if) I’ve accomplished what I intended the community will be better served in a variety of ways.

A little bit about Ben Tolles:

  • Bachelors in Environmental Science – Ithaca College
  • People may be surprised when they learn that I am on the Ithaca College Ballroom Dance team! Most people aren’t aware that ballroom dance is a competitive sport and neither did I un l I met a girl on the team who invited me to join.
  • My most significant accomplishment: Backpacking around the world when I was only 19!



Does community development work interest you?  Are you looking for a life changing experience in rural Oregon?  Learn more about serving with the RARE AmeriCorps Program via our website:

Recent college graduate? Need flexibility? Consider RARE AmeriCorps!

By Matthew Tsui

If you are a recent college graduate like me, you are likely 1.) looking for a job or 2.) considering graduate school or maybe 3.) want to travel or 4.) just something to pay off those darn school loans! Sound familiar?

However, how could you possibly do all these things? How could you even decide?

A month later after graduation, I received an email from my International Agriculture professor. The email advertised an AmeriCorps program called RARE, which is an acronym for Resource Assistance for Rural Environments.

I looked through their website and discovered that I could:

  1. Do a full-time 11-month term of service projects related to Community Planning, Community & Economic Development and/or Natural Resource Planning Food Systems
  2. Get a headstart with 9 graduate credits toward a Master of Community and Regional Planning
  3. Work and live in a rural community in Oregon
  4. Be awarded an education award to help pay off loans after the AmeriCorps service

One problem. I had accepted a 6-month research job in Arizona, which conflicted with upcoming term of service. My research job ended in October. The RARE AmeriCorps service starts in September. I thought there would be no way I would be accepted into the program or even get an interview.

Enter my savior and the RARE Program Coordinator, Titus Tomlinson!

Once I had been accepted into the program, Titus tirelessly coordinated with RARE staff and City of Umatilla (my host community) to customize the starting and ending dates of my term of service to fit my schedule. Titus and I communicated over phone where he listened to my endless concerns: moving to a new town, away from family, adjusting to a new culture, etc.

Titus’ help during my application process is evidence of a trend I feel every day during my RARE service:

Titus, the RARE Program Coordinator and the host community want to provide you with tools, assistance and their time to help you grow as a professional.

Are you Interested in RARE? Click HERE to learn more about serving with the RARE AmeriCorps Program!

A little bit about Matthew Tsui:

  • Matthew Tsui is a recent Penn State University graduate. He is currently serving as the GIS coordinator/Recreation Planner with the City of Umatilla in Umatilla, Oregon.
  • People may be surprised that I am huge college football fan.
  • My most significant accomplishment, thus far, was growing vegetables at urban farm called Heritage Farm for Philadelphia families faced with the challenges of poverty

Does community development work interest you?  Are you looking for a life changing experience in rural Oregon?  Learn more about serving with the RARE AmeriCorps Program via our website: