Interviews

Northwest Nature Shop – 1001 Ways to Enjoy Southern Oregon

For over twenty seven years the Northwest Nature Shop has focused on providing Ashlanders with thousands of ways to commune with, explore and enjoy nature. From local guide books, trail maps, toys, gifts, bird feeders and an ongoing forum of outdoor hikes, and guided nature excursions the list is endless. In fact if you just thought of them as your local “Chamber of Commerce” for what to do to experience nature in Southern Oregon, you would not be disappointed.  We stopped in to speak with owners Marie, Chris and  their mom, Kathy about the Northwest Nature Shop and all they have to offer.

Marie, Chris, Kathy, Thanks for speaking with us today and sharing a little bit more about your story. Was I exaggerating when I said you guys are like the Chamber of Commerce for outdoor activities in Southern Oregon?

Marie: Thank you, it’s a pleasure. I am honored that people look to us as nature experts and we take that job seriously. We certainly do get lots of questions …let’s see yesterday for example I was asked: what should I do with the robin that just flew into our window  (put it in a dark protected box) to how do I get rid of the woodpeckers from pecking at our house at 6 am (hang up old CDs or reflective tape in the location where they like to peck) to what is this mushroom I just found in my backyard (bring it to our mushroom experts at our Spring or Fall Wild Mushroom Fair) or how can I attract more birds to my backyard (put up a variety of feeders suet feeder, nyger thistle feeder, sunflower feeder and provide a bird bath with a water mister.)

If you catch us on a chatty day we will talk your ear off about where to go and what to do to experience nature in Southern Oregon.  Chris can give details about his latest adventures far and wide.  Just last Saturday he took the dogs on a 22 mile hike along the Illinois River. Our dogs still aren’t moving.  I am more subdued in my adventures because I have 3 kids in tow but ask me where to take those little ones for a quick jaunt and I can fill you in.  I can usually get the kids to hike a few miles if I have enough gummy bears in the backpack.

Can you share a little bit more about the mission and driving force of The Northwest Nature Shop?

Marie: We are a family-run business that provides a resource for locals and visitors to obtain materials and information to further their enjoyment and understanding of the natural world.  My Mom and Dad started the Northwest Nature Shop 27 years ago.  People thought they were crazy to open a store specializing in bird feeders and butterfly nets and maps and binoculars and telescopes in a small town in Southern Oregon but we are now one of the longest running stores in downtown Ashland with incredibly devoted, loyal customers from not only the Rogue Valley but up and down the west coast. My parents had incredible foresight in the value of knowing and appreciating the natural world. When we were growing up we would spend our weekends bird watching and lizard catching and rock hounding and I would keep our adventures on the down low from my friends who were going to Disneyland and the mall but look, now it is cool to be outside – thank goodness! When Portlandia came out with their “put a bird on it” episode I was positive they were talking about our store!

Having been raised by independent business owners Chris and I have that same streak and honestly we couldn’t work for someone else and have a real boss (our Mom is very forgiving!) so we are all working as hard as we can to keep our business thriving and successful.  We have incredibly loyal customers that we are so grateful for and now with the popularity of buy local and fair trade and the focus on beautifying our backyards our shop is right there with the movement.

Chris you have become an expert on the many local guide books and maps and as I understand many of these are exclusive to you guys, meaning that locals are going to be hard pressed to find them some where else… tell us about this? 

Chris: Southern Oregon has a relatively small population base so books about our area specifically don’t get published by major book publishers so local authors have to self publish titles such as Wildflowers of Table Rocks and Hiking Southern Oregon. We provide an outlet for those books you can not find elsewhere.

Kathy, can you give us your top ten ways to get your kids out side and playing in nature this summer?

Kathy: Give them a butterfly net, a magnifying glass and a bug box. Endure the whines of ‘I’m bored…I want someone to play with me…I want something to do…can I have an ice cream…and just let them spend some time outside.  They’ll be digging in the dirt, finding bugs and slugs in no time.

A few of our favorite get outside toys are:

  • kid sized gardening tools
  • bug catchers
  • butterfly nets
  • microscopes – get a digital eyepiece so you can later look at your finds on your computer, print them out and share with friends
  • binoculars for kids
  • field guides specifically for kids so they take their bug or bird identification book out and have a great scavenger hunt in nature,
  • even a blank sketch pad and colored pencils will provide hours of entertainment outside.

We avoid toys that need batteries and that have limited creative play value.

Chris, talk to us about your guided walks. I understand you just had an edible mushroom walk?

Chris: We have monthly birds walks, seasonal mushroom walks, wildflower hikes, astronomy viewings and events for kids like a DIY (Do-It-Yourself) birdhouse class, and fairy house workshops. We have an online calendar and our facebook page with updated event postings. (www.NorthwestNatureshop.com)

Marie, In our conversation you mentioned that you have the unique opportunity to really shop locally for the specific desires and request of Ashlanders. Please share with us a little bit about the qualities you are looking for when bringing in product for the store?

Marie: We go to trade shows and we see so much cheap, plastic @#* made overseas that lasts a very short time and then goes to the landfill and it is easy to get discouraged but then we see a guy with a beard sitting at his booth filled with handmade river stone picture frames and we think..now we are talking… this is something for our shop, or a mom and her daughter with a table of birdfeeders they designed and make and we are thankful we have a shop with customers who appreciate the same things we do and where we can provide a venue for quality, useful beautiful products.

Kathy, Best things to do on a rainy spring day in Southern Oregon?

Kathy:Watch the birds flock to your backyard bird feeder, look for morels popping up, stop by the Nature Shop to see what new finds we have in, go to Ashland Ponds to look for river otters, hike up in the Ashland Watershed where the dense forest provides a protective canopy, read Hiking Southern Oregon, lay out maps on the kitchen table and plan your next adventure.

Chris, what are your top 10 hiking trails starting from easiest to most advanced?

Chris: Right here in town, we have some excellent hiking trails accessed from Lithia Park.  As you go further out of town I really like the Illinois River, the Russian, Trinity Alps and Marble Mountain Wilderness, the Redwoods, the Lost Coast, Crater Lake, Mt. Shasta, Rogue River. Obviously, we live in a spectacular region that provides incredible hiking opportunities. 10 local hiking trails I recommend:

  1. Lithia Park – our city gem right in downtown Ashland
  2. Oredson Todd Woods to Mike Uhtoff Trail to White Rabbit – easy access from Ashland, nice views, beautiful forest.
  3. Pacific Crest Trail from Mt. Ashland access road to Grouse Gap – spectacular wildflowers, lush meadows and gorgeous views of Mt. Shasta
  4. Pilot Rock and Hobart Bluff in the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument – world renowned for it’s biological diversity
  5. Wagner Butte – great views of Ashland, meadows, a spring and aspens.
  6. Grizzly Peak – landmark visible from all over Ashland, beautiful wildflowers in early summer
  7. Crater Lake – Boundary Springs (headwaters of the Rogue River) and Garfield Peak (look down on the glowing blue of Crater Lake.)
  8. Mountain Lakes Wilderness Loop near Upper Klamath Lake – small lesser-known wilderness area with picturesque tucked away lakes.
  9. Mt. McLoughlin – classic volcano peak offers demanding and rewarding hike.
  10. Illinois River- green pools, waterfalls, diverse plant life.

Marie the Northwest Natures Shop places a huge emphasis upon having a hands on experience in nature, tell us a little bit about the philosophy behind this?

Marie: Before founding the Northwest Nature Shop my Dad was the director of the Portland Audubon Society and my Mom started the gift shop there.  They were and are lifelong educators and conservationists, and believed strongly that when people are encouraged to be in nature and have the opportunity to learn about the natural world they will be inspired and determined to protect natural areas.  They created the Northwest Nature Shop to be a source for products that help adults and children learn about nature and science. The store is designed to be a fun place to visit and play with science toys and gifts, see the latest technology in squirrel-proof feeders and be inspired by the beauty of nature and marvels of science.

Your store also hosts a huge variety of gifts what are some of the local favorites?

We strive to carry locally made products and a few of our favorites are functional and inexpensive bird feeders from Grants Pass, beautiful ceramics made here in Ashland, nature photography from Dan Elster in Ashland, fun and educational wooden catapults and marble games, and many of our self published local field and hiking guides and maps.

Birds and Bird Feeders – You guys must love birds because you probably have some of the most beautiful bird feeders and largest variety, I have ever seen. In fact we bought a beautiful brass bird bath from you guys for mother’s day.

When you have your bird feeder filled with gorgeous goldfinches or your suet feeder packed with cute little bushtits, or robins taking a playful bath in your birdbath, or a bluebird feeding it’s young in the bird house you put up for it, what is not to love?

Marie, you are specializing in the toy section. What are you looking for when choosing toys to bring into the store? What’s on your top list of cool toys that will get outside and having fun this summer?

Marie: We are looking for toys that last, toys that encourage creative, free play, toys that spark a child’s imagination and toys that are made sustainably.  Some of our favorites are boats made from recycled milk jugs that are perfect for taking to Lithia Park and floating in the stream, kites to fly on a windy day, portable water balloon pump with biodegradable water balloons to take your water fights to new heights, awesome flying discs that go unbelievably far and are surprisingly easy to catch, cool yo yos that will inspire you to practice and practice until you nail that looping tidal wave trick – (you’ll get addicted!), juggling sticks, great magic tricks to inspire home-grown magic shows, and fairy house books to inspire your next fairy creation.

Chris, I’m wondering about some of the vast array of questions that you are assisting customers with when they come into the store.What have been some of your favorite questions?

I love when customers come in and they are genuinely curious about something they saw in their backyard or on a hike.  Customers bring in photos of paw prints or scat to id what animal is possibly lurking in their backyard at night.  Customers bring in a mangled birdfeeder wondering what could have possible happened to it and we have to tell them it was the work of a hungry bear. We’ve had people accusing their neighbors of stealing their bird feeder only to discover a raccoon dragged it over in the middle of the night. We get calls asking can I eat the mushroom that just popped up in my garden?  Our answer is always no with that one until you positively identify what mushroom it is and if it is edible.

What would you consider to be one of the best kept secrets about the Nature Shop that you are now going to share with everyone?

Marie: We are a family business, we have three generations here in the shop just about every day. Operating a shop with a 1, 4 and 6 year old running about provides for some good stories – how about when Lena pulled down an entire bin of rocks that spilled onto and covered the entire front room or when Michael got into a box of licorice and took a bite out of every single one (we had to finish a lot of licorice after that) or when I was holding Luis and helping a customer and he grabbed onto a handblown glass hummingbird and the entire display came crashing down (that was a spendy one), we have LOTS of those kind of stories but it keeps the shop interesting, fun and well…like family….

What are some events or workshops we should keep our eyes open for?

The Venus transit on Tuesday, June 6th from 5-7 pm. We’ll have a telescope set up and Jessica Vineyard from Southern Oregon Skywatchers will discuss the significance of this solar event.

Any last words or comments for our readers?  Come by the shop, say hello, mention you read this article and we’ll give you a special gift – thank you for the interview LocalsGuide and thank you for reading.

 

Northwest Nature Shop
154 Oak Street  Ashland, OR 97520
(541) 482-3241

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Shields Bialasik

Hi, I am Shields. I am the creator or LocalsGuide. The mission or my company is to provide a positive media platform for my community which in turn makes it stronger and more resilient. I hope you will enjoy and feel inspired to start your own LocalsGuide in your town or community.

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