By Sue Hansen
“I was born at a very early age.” So stated Ed Park after being informed of my intention to interview him for this “OWAA Legends” series. Despite his quick wit — well known in our organization — Park’s modesty made him reluctant to talk about five decades of professional accomplishments. Reminding him that he suggested to his good friend Glenn Titus to feature legends still living, Park remarked, “Glenn is just getting back at me for eating cheeseburgers at breakfast when we worked together years ago in South Dakota.”
Changing strategy over the phone, I decided to pursue a more personal profile, instead suggesting we get together to swap stories, secretly hoping to squeeze out a few facts regarding his remarkable outdoor career. Like a cunning coyote, Park wasn’t fooled by this ploy, though I was permitted to bring a tape recorder to his place in Prineville, OR.
His home, shared with his lovely wife Lois, is a testament to time spent outdoors. A bobcat pelt draped over the couch. Wildlife prints on the walls. Mounted big-game heads from bygone hunts. When asked where he shot his Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep, Park replied “right about here,” pointing to a spot below his own right shoulder.
Aside from amusing answers, Park’s lifelong love for wildlife and wild places led him to Oregon State College in Corvallis — now Oregon State University — where he earned a bachelor’s degree in fish-and-game management in 1955 and a master’s in wildlife management four years later. During this time, Park wrote articles on local wildlife for the college newspaper. “I started out to be a wildlife biologist, then got sidetracked,” he said.
Park’s path to photojournalism began atop Black Butte lookout, a U.S. Forest Service fire tower. Alone in the remote area of Oregon’s central Cascade range, he hand-wrote a story, submitted it to Outdoor Life and received his first rejection. “I still have that letter.” (Park is hesitant to reveal his publication numbers, but he’s produced thousands of articles and photographs printed in numerous newspapers, magazines and books throughout North America, Europe and Asia.)
Before leaving the lookout with his letter, Park left a lasting legacy by engraving “Bearded Bachelor of Black Butte” on a large stone. “Since the Forest Service didn’t allow beards at the time, I decided to grow one. When beards became popular, I shaved mine off.” The stone is still there; its faded message a tribute to Park’s rock-solid individualism.
In 1959, Park applied for a position — along with Titus — in the Information and Education division at South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks Department. When the department couldn’t decide which man to hire, they both got the job — Park doing still photography and Titus doing movie photography. Park also hosted a radio program for the department, his trademark: “Hi there, this is ‘South Dakota Outdoors’ and I’m Ed Park.”
Becoming a full-time free-lancer in 1961, OWAA soon benefited from his membership beginning in 1964. Closemouthed about his many contributions, his presence is an important part of our organization’s history.
After serving one term on the board, Park was talked into running for third vice president by past president Tom Opre. “I agreed only because Norm Strung was also running and I knew Norm would win. However, when I arrived at the Rapid City conference, Judd Cooney told me that I had won and my face fell. I couldn’t understand how that happened, but that’s the way life goes. Fortunately, Norm was elected the following year.”
During his term as president (1983-84), the “Phoenix Phiasco” took place, resulting in Park taking on the executive director’s duties as well. At the time, OWAA headquarters was located in Arizona and our Executive Director Bob Honke resigned for health reasons. Another executive director was hired, but quit after a couple of days.
“It was a very serious situation with things in disarray. In February, the OWAA board met in a long conference call that resulted in the hiring of Sylvia Bashline. However, prior commitments prohibited Sylvia from taking over until July. So the board hired me as executive director from March through June 1984. Two days after the call, I left Bend, OR, for Phoenix where I spent four months until Sylvia could take over and move the office to State College, PA.”
A stroke in 1991 temporarily sidetracked Park. His physical fight to get back on his feet put new meaning into his nickname “Coyote.”
“That title was given to me at a mountain-man rendezvous because of my superb hunting skills and not because I howl at the moon. But when I had a stroke, I thought of a coyote’s struggles against man and nature and decided if it can survive, so could I.”
From 1990 to 1996, Park hosted the western edition of the “In-Fisherman Radio” show based in Brainerd, MN. He continues to tape interviews and write text for the program’s current host, collecting material at sportsmen’s shows with help from Lois. He also writes a weekly outdoor column for Prineville’s Central Oregonian newspaper. Not surprising for a man who helped organize Northwest Outdoor Writers Association in 1973, Park also started OWAA’s Scavenger Hunt Photo Contest in 1980. In 1993 he won OWAA’s prestigious Ham Brown Award.
Regarding the photo contest, Park said: “Norm Strung suggested calling it the ‘Ed Park Memorial Scavenger Hunt’ after assigning 10 subjects and someone said I should be assassinated for my diabolical mind in thinking of it in the first place.”
Knowing an OWAA legend is a learning experience and, in Park’s case, entertaining as well. His reflections and recollections on his outdoor life enrich the lives of those who know him. For those who haven’t met Park, stop him as he cruises conferences in his electric scooter and ask about his first OWAA conference (Duluth 1969) where he shared his first breakfast with Durwood Allen, a legend in the wildlife world. During another breakfast, ask how he received a $900 assignment by sitting with Bill Colby, former camping editor of Outdoor Life.
Encounters with Park will also result in OWAA stories of your own. For Eric Hansen and I, spending six days on the road with him — driving to and from the Sioux Falls conference — left us amazed at his ability to stay awake the entire 2,700 miles. “Too much to see along the way,” he said. On that note, I just want to say, “Where’s the windmill, Ed?”
Before turning off my tape recorder, I asked Park to summarize 50 years as an outdoor communicator. He simply said, “I love observing life and photographing it. And as for OWAA, it has evolved into the biggest group of friends I have.”
Freelancer Sue Hansen writes for Northwest Travel, Heartland USA, Oregon Outside, Wyoming Wildlife, Wild Outdoor World and others publications. Hansen lives in Corvallis, OR.