Haystack Rock claims another heart

Melissa Keyser, 27, is the first-ever education coordinator with the Haystack Rock Awareness Program. She is in charge of scheduling the school groups and other groups that visit the rock during beach season.

The city’s Haystack Rock Awareness Program has found its first education coordinator in Melissa Keyser, a 27-year-old Astoria resident who stepped into the new position Feb. 20.

During every beach season, dozens of school groups from Oregon and Washington take field trips to Haystack Rock so kids can learn about its bird and intertidal life from the program’s staff and volunteers.

Scheduling these school groups, though, is a taxing and time-consuming process, said Samantha Ferber, coordinator of the Haystack Rock Awareness Program. With so many teachers requesting time at the beach, competing for low-tide hours, Ferber came to realize that neither she nor the intern, who traditionally handled the education side of things, had time to do it themselves.

“You have a ton of teachers all wanting to come at the same time,” said Keyser, noting that, on some days, the tide is out for only two hours. “We want to get as many groups as we can, but coordinating with them is sometimes difficult.”

Keyser works with the teachers to give them the days they need. So far, she’s scheduled about 30 school groups. That number is expected to rise as the main season for school groups (April through June) gets closer. Clubs, church groups, summer camps and other organizations likely will begin planning visits to Haystack Rock as well.

Keyser also works on the beach as a staff interpreter and will be giving presentations on Haystack Rock’s ecology.

Eventually, she would like to help Ferber write some of the program’s educational materials, which are based on the federal Common Core State Standards. Some of the program’s volunteers give presentations, with games or slide shows, to local classrooms either before or after students’ trips to the rock, where there’s an intertidal investigation station, an aquaria investigation station and a bird observation station.

The funding for the part-time education coordinator’s position, amounting to $7,150, is secure until June 30, the end the current fiscal year.

Before July, however, Ferber will make the case before the city’s budget committee that the position should be extended through October, which the City Council will have to approve. She will ask the city to fund the position at $14,300 annually, Ferber said.

Originally from the Portland metro area, Keyser holds two bachelor’s degrees — in environmental studies and geography — from Portland State University, where she graduated in 2010.

“I’ve always been really passionate about pursuing something in the environmental field,” said Keyser, who moved from Beaverton to Astoria with her husband, Matthew, two years ago. They have a 6-year-old son, Olin, and a 1-year-old daughter, Juno. “I’ve just been looking at every job that I can find in the North Coast region.”

Keyser once worked for an eco-friendly auto detailing company, running its social media and setting up its blog and website. She’s also big on volunteer work and has donated her time to SOLVE’s beach clean-up efforts and Friends of Trees’ tree-planting projects.

Though her mother likes to garden and her family went “glamping” (glamorous camping) in their camper on occasion, Keyser’s interest in protecting the environment arose from a very specific experience: an environmental studies class she took while still a senior at Southridge High School in Beaverton.

“I kind of just took it because it sounded interesting, and I just loved it. I ended up just wanting to do that,” she said. “That class really dictated my future.”

If the education coordinator position continues to receive funding, Keyser hopes to remain in it while preparing for graduate school, not least because “I love the people.”

“All the volunteers I’ve gotten to work with are just so passionate — not, like, scary passionate, but they are so passionate about what they’re doing,” she said. “They have such a wealth of knowledge that I feel like I want to attain.”

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