Designers Use Park-Inspired Art to Give Back to the Community

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A pair of artists pays tribute to Oregon parks with a patch collection.

It didn’t take long for Kevin Fitzgerald to fall in love with Oregon when he moved to the state in 2011. Specifically, it took one night.

Fitzgerald and his wife, en route to their new home, camped for a night in Wallowa Lake State Park, nestled deep in northeastern Oregon’s Wallowa Mountains. Fitzgerald had never seen anything like the idyllic Wallowa Lake or the surrounding alpine peaks in his home state, Nebraska. “You can look over the lake and see the mountain range,” Fitzgerald says. “It didn’t look like it belonged in America.”

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Fitzgerald, a graphic designer by trade, was so inspired by the beauty of Oregon’s parks, he eventually created a set of 53 patches and stickers commemorating the Oregon State Parks system. Five years after Fitzgerald first set foot in Oregon, his side project spawned a Kickstarter that raised $6,538 from 199 backers.

Patchmarks, as it would later be known, was born.

Fitzgerald started designing the patches in late 2014, working to develop a cohesive theme while still paying tribute to what made each park unique. The Oregon State Parks system includes more than 250 properties (such as “state natural areas”), but Fitzgerald ultimately settled on 53 officially designated state parks.

Each patch used about five colors, and bold, iconic designs became the set’s calling card; the Fort Stevens State Park patch, for instance, spotlights the Peter Iredale, a rusted shipwreck lodged in the Pacific Ocean surf near the mouth of the Columbia River.

A photo posted by Sabine Weise (@schleglin) on

Fitzgerald, wanting to return to Nebraska in 2016, approached native Oregonian and founder of Portland-based design company Mission Expedition Woody Adams about seeing the project through to completion. Adams was immediately drawn to Fitzgerald’s eye for design and appreciation for Oregon State Parks. “It’s not a kitschy thing,” Adams says. “It honors the state parks. It feels like a very authentic, local thing.”

Adams turned to Kickstarter in June 2016, hoping to raise enough money to print a set of five patches. Buoyed by local media coverage, the campaign met its goal within three days and raised more than $6,500 by the time it ended in mid-July. Visitors can now browse the set and purchase all 53 patches and stickers at Patchmarks.com.

Adams then partnered with the Oregon State Parks Foundation and donated a portion of sales to its Ticket 2 Ride program, which connects K-8 students with nearby state parks. Patchmarks has so far funded one outing for Portland area students; Adams also donated $250 to a ballot measure promoting expanded Outdoor School offerings for students throughout Oregon. (With more than 67 percent of the vote, Measure 99 passed in November 2016.)

Fitzgerald might have moved back to Nebraska in late 2016, but he isn’t closing the door on patches for the other 200 or so properties within the Oregon State Parks system. “There’s room to continue the series,” he says. “I have to earn my patches, too.”

Interested in exploring the Oregon State Parks system yourself? Here are hikes at five state parks featured in the Patchmarks set.

Cape Lookout State Park

Photo courtesy of Patchmarks

The 2.4-mile Cape Lookout Trail is more or less split in two by a viewpoint at the 1.5-mile mark. Leading up to that vista, the trail offers an easy, well-graded stroll through a dense forest. After that, however, the trail deteriorates, forcing hikers to push through thick batches of mud and traverse slippery roots. Exercise caution, especially after rain, and you’ll enjoy wide open views of the Pacific Ocean at the end of the cape. As a bonus, the lookout at the end of the Cape Lookout Trail offers some of the Oregon Coast’s best whale-watching opportunities every winter and spring.

Guy W. Talbot State Park

Everyone knows and (rightfully) loves Multnomah Falls, among the most popular tourist destinations in Oregon. But just six miles away, Latourell Falls and Guy W. Talbot State Park invite hikers to explore a less popular, but no less beautiful, trek in the Columbia River Gorge. The 2.3-mile trip starts steep but levels off quickly, allowing hikers to enjoy a thick forest along the way. The hike’s centerpiece is the 249-foot-tall Latourell Falls, which tumbles over a rocky lava flow, but keep walking for another scenic viewpoint at Upper Latourell Falls.

Oswald West State Park

Photo courtesy of Patchmarks

The Oregon Coast is known more for its foreboding forests and imposing rock formations than sandy beaches and warm temperatures. Nowhere is that more apparent than along the Cape Falcon Trail (Hiked it? Adopt it here!), nestled in the heart of Oswald West State Park. The 4.3-mile, out-and-back trail takes hikers through a lush rainforest, down to a hidden cove popular with surfers, and out to a bluff that offers unobstructed views of both the Pacific Ocean and Neahkahnie Mountain.

Silver Falls State Park

Ask any Oregon hiker for their favorite hike in the state, and odds are good they’ll gush about the Trail of Ten Falls at Silver Falls State Park. Over the course of roughly seven miles, hikers walk behind or enjoy views of—you guessed it—10 tumbling waterfalls. In between falls, hikers walk among towering Douglas fir, hemlock, and cedar trees—and alongside Silver Creek’s bubbling north fork. There’s no bad time to visit, but winter runoff leads to more powerful falls each spring.

Smith Rock State Park

Photo courtesy of Patchmarks

Smith Rock State Park hosts numerous hiking and equestrian trails, not to mention world-renowned rock-climbing opportunities, but few hikes showcase the park’s beauty like the Misery Ridge Loop. At various points, the heart-pumping trail delivers views of the park’s windswept bluffs, Monkey Face (a vertigo-inducing pinnacle popular with climbers), the region’s rugged high desert, and the bucolic Crooked River winding through it all. Get the hard work out of the way first by hiking up Misery Ridge—it climbs roughly 1,000 feet over the course of one mile—and enjoy an easy trip down complete with expansive views around every bend.

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