Hooked on volunteering

On an icy-cold winter morning in Swan Creek Park, Scott Murdock was the first to show up for a trash cleanup. As he stumped over the fresh snow with a garbage bag, he’d already been scouting the park before anyone arrived, informing organizers which areas had the most trash.

After five years of volunteering for Metro Parks Tacoma’s CHIP-In program and the Point Defiance Zoo and Aquarium’s horticulture team, Murdock has racked up a whopping 4,760 official hours of ripping ivy and blackberry, spreading mulch, and reclaiming land for wildlife in parks around Tacoma.

But to Murdock, it’s just a part of something he’s done ever since he retired: Giving back.

“I was born in Seattle, grew up in Olympia, and apart from three years working in Idaho, I’ve never lived outside Washington,” said Murdock. “Growing up, I did a lot of hiking with the Boy Scouts. I loved it.”

But working-life intervened, as it often does. Murdock’s a civil engineer who spent the bulk of his career inspecting bridges and ferry terminals for the Washington Department of Transportation. When he retired in 2014, he realized he wanted to get back to hiking – and to give back to those mountains, trails, and forests he loved as a boy.

He’d already spent years volunteering for other groups like Wilderness Volunteers and the Washington Trails Association (WTA), even spending weeks at a time doing carpentry projects at Holden Village, a retreat center in the North Cascades. A longtime Northeast Tacoma resident, he helped restore Julia’s Gulch, a lush ravine running down from the upper neighborhood to the water.

He volunteered for CHIP-In at Alderwood Park – and was hooked. “It had a lot of ivy and blackberry,” said Murdock, who lived close by. “So I said I’d like to take care of it, to give back.”

Since then, the tall, laconic engineer with a thick white beard has served nine years as park steward, a volunteer who commits to regular monthly hours at a particular park and helps organize other volunteers. He’s been a regular at Alderwood and Browns Point Playfield, helping other stewards at Franklin, Titlow, Dickman Mill, and Swan Creek Parks. He also volunteers at Point Defiance Zoo, helping the horticulture team keep on top of the extensive botanic gardens there.

“Scott’s years of commitment and passion for assisting with the zoo’s botanical collection have been outstanding,” said zoo horticulturalist Bryon Jones. “The horticultural team looks forward to his weekly visits and his keen eye for detail which he brings to maintaining our grounds and plant collection.”

And his service hasn’t gone unnoticed by others. He won Tacoma’s 2019 City of Destiny Award for environmental sustainability, and another in 2021 as part of the zoo team. But he brushes off those accolades with a quiet humility, focusing more on what’s still to be done.

One recent day, that was English ivy. Starting around 8 a.m. at the natural trails on the northern edge of Browns Point Playfield, he pulled the invasive vine off towering madrona and fir trees, piling it up to break down naturally. As he worked, he pointed out other massive ivy piles and hummocky areas of salal, sword fern, and huckleberry glistening with dew.

“That was all blackberry when I started,” he explained.

Spending up to 20 hours a week working in parks as he does, educating the public is a part of the job. One day, clearing all that blackberry, a local resident complained that he was taking away all the habitat for birds. “I explained to her that what I was doing would let native vegetation grow and thrive, which provides much better food for birds than blackberries,” he said.

Other benefits of clearing invasive plants include the ability of Metro Parks and WTA to create more trails, thus protecting plants from human feet and encouraging walkers to explore. Murdock has also found that bringing back wildlife discourages unwanted human use, like teenage parties or trash. It also helps Metro Parks maintenance crews, lightening their load so they can focus on other areas like playgrounds, spraygrounds, playfields and restrooms.

For Murdock, the benefits of volunteering are intensely personal.

“It keeps me busy,” he said. “It’s my exercise program. It’s a great feeling to give back, and I can look around and see what I’ve accomplished. I feel really connected to the neighborhood.” With a smile, he added that “if it’s raining heavily, I might not go out. I’m getting lazy.”

Information about joining work parties or volunteering with Metro Parks Tacoma is available at metroparkstacoma.org/chip-in.


At Browns Point Playfield, one of the Metropolitan Parks Tacoma locales that benefit from his volunteer work.


Better Internet coming to rural communities

Internet access has become a prerequisite for participating in modern life. Examples: Getting medical care, filing taxes, or paying rent can all require logging on. But the connectivity to make that happen isn’t equal for all. High-speed broadband access that’s taken for granted by city-dwellers often is out of reach in rural places.

To change that, the federal government has made tens of billions of dollars available nationally for telecom companies and local governments to help close the gaps. The Key Peninsula area in Pierce County received some good news in January when county officials and Comcast finalized an agreement to expand the availability of high-speed Internet for more than 526 homes and businesses.

Comcast will build the infrastructure for multi-gig broadband speed for residents and business customers. The approximately $5 million project is being funded as a public-private partnership between Comcast and the county, with $3.75 million of the funding funneled through the county in the form of federal money from the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021.

“Now more than ever, it’s crucial that people have access to high-speed Internet” for work, school and entertainment, said County Executive Bruce Dammeier.

Nationwide, the number of homes with no or slow Internet access isn’t clear, but Microsoft estimates as many as 120 million people — roughly one-third of the U.S. population – are behind the curve.

Key Peninsula is one of the places that’s catching up. Roy Novosel, a regional vice president of Comcast, said the upgrades on the way there are “an extension of our commitment to investing in and expanding our network to ensure that more residents and businesses have the important broadband connections they need.”

Once permits are obtained and construction has begun in public rights-of-way, Comcast will start giving peninsula-area residents information about the network buildup in their neighborhoods, including product and service details.

Meanwhile, broadband advocates see a rare chance to reshape the highly consolidated online landscape, thanks to a $42 billion program tucked into President Biden’s 2021 Infrastructure Law. Unlike previous federal subsidies, the most ambitious single deployment of federal resources to date will flow through state governments, which can prioritize open-access networks.

Even amid growing acknowledgement of the Internet as an essential utility, some advocates remain skeptical of whether passing money through states will overcome decades of fragmented policy and keep rural locales from slipping through the digital cracks.

Public utility districts (PUDs) emerged in Washington in the 1930s, when rural areas were grappling with how to provide electricity. At that time, rural communities lacked the legal authority to form public utilities, and it took a statewide ballot measure, passed in 1930, to pave the way for public electrical systems.

Internet service has followed a similar trajectory. Until a repeal in 2021, Washington was one of 20 states that banned or restricted public entities from providing Internet service. Most of those laws are still on the books, posing obstacles to federal efforts to expand access.

Amid the influx of federal stimulus dollars, many of Washington’s PUDs are jockeying for state infrastructure grants. In one such case in the state’s southwest area near Elma, a state board rejected a grant application due to an objection from Comcast, which argued it already served about a quarter of the homes in the proposed area. It was one of eight public broadband expansion plans scuttled by objections from private telecom companies, including Comcast and Nevada-based Rural Wireless LLC, in a process that state regulators have vowed to reform.

Washington has earmarked more than $400 million for broadband infrastructure grants, most of it federal aid from the American Rescue Plan. The most recent round of applications closed Jan. 17.

If past federal efforts to expand broadband access were plagued by a lack of oversight or accountability, local leaders in Washington hope this time will be different. State officials expect to pull in at least $900 million from the federal infrastructure bill this summer.

In Washington, only public and non-profit entities — ranging from PUDs and ports to cities and tribes — can apply for funding. But many are expected to form partnerships with private companies to serve customers.

One county is experimenting with a different, fully public model. Taking advantage of the 2021 law change, Jefferson County’s PUD is getting into the retail telecom business to offer service directly to consumers. The PUD won a $24 million grant last year to build fiber lines to 2,600 homes on the Olympic Peninsula.


Sources: Crosscut, a non-profit Pacific Northwest news site and part of Cascade Public Media, contributed to this report.

The Purdy Bridge is known as the gateway to Key Peninsula, one of the rural locales targeted for high-speed Internet through local and federal efforts.
Clubs in Tacoma and Seattle are curling’s local hotbeds

Who hasn’t used a broom or pushed a stone, right? But how many people have done both as part of a sport? Answer: The million-plus people worldwide and a fraction of that in the U.S. and the Puget Sound region who are into curling for glory or just for the fun of it.

For everybody else, curling is the quirky Olympic sport that gets its most attention during the Winter Games. In teams generally of four people, players slide granite stones (also called rocks) on a frozen surface toward a target of four concentric circles. Sort of like shuffleboard, but on ice, and with other differences. Teammates use a curling broom, or brush, to help smooth the stone’s path. Friction from the high-energy sweeping melts the surface enough to cause a thin layer of water for the heavy (44 pounds) stone to glide along. Points are scored for the stones that stop closest to the center of the target, or “house.”

The sport’s origin dates to 16th-century Scotland, where the first recorded match was played in 1541 and the sport’s international governing body, the World Curling Federation, is based today. According to the federation, curling has 1.5 million players worldwide, 90 percent of them in Canada, the hotbed of the sport. The U.S. has about 16,000 players, and most of them are registered with 165 curling clubs.

Washington has produced some prominent curlers. Sean Beighton, an Edmonds native, was introduced to the sport at Granite Curling Club in Seattle on his way to becoming coach of the United States team in the 2022 Winter Olympics. He’s also a past U.S. national champion.

The Seattle club is non-profit and holds competitions and classes for all ages at its rink in Seattle.

In Tacoma, the Rainier Curling Club (RCC) offers competition for experienced players and classes for novices at Tacoma Twin Rinks, located at 2645 S. 80th St. To get involved and find out more, go online at psicesports.com or call 253-272-7825.

Stephanie Betts, RCC’s commissioner, said the club has drop-in curling sessions on Monday nights and a “Learn to Curl” program that started last October and “is great for all ages, including seniors.”

Some experienced players are 55 and older “and are more than excited to help teach new players. We have all the equipment needed, so there’s no need to purchase any of the curling gear,” Betts said, adding that the club plans to get some specialized sticks “to help throw the rocks from a standing position for those who have a hard time getting low to the ice.”

Betts is also director of female hockey at Tacoma Twin Rinks, which includes adult and junior hockey and skating among its programs.

After giving some pointers, instructor Mike Schiebe watches as a new curler puts them to use in a scrimmage at Tacoma Twin Rinks.
Remember when everyone could balance a checkbook?

By Jennifer L. Gaskin

Throughout history, the times and places people lived in shaped the skills they needed to survive. Think about the years before the invention of electricity: Back then, many Americans knew how to build fires, drive wagons, or preserve food. Today, those once-essential skills have been replaced with tasks our ancestors could have never imagined, such as driving cars, building websites, or taking photographs.

In the last two decades,

Balancing a checkbook is one of the life skills that younger generations don’t (and might never) possess, according to a survey of adults from 18 to 76 years old.

Are some skills destined to become relics of the past? To find out, TheSeniorList.com conducted a study of 1,076 adults in equal amounts of four generations–baby boomers, Generation X, millennials, and Generation Z. Overall, 52 percent were females and the rest males. In almost every case, the skills in the study were most common among older adults between the ages of 58 and 76 and least common among younger adults 18 to 25. There were some slight differences, but several stood out because of how uncommon they are in more youthful generations today. The three skills most at risk of extinction are:

  • Negotiating purchase prices.

By a 39-point margin, baby boomers were much more likely than their younger counterparts to know how to negotiate the purchase prices of things like homes or new cars. Eighty-one percent of boomers said they can haggle on price, while only 43 percent of Gen Zers said the same. This could be explained by broader economic factors and the nature of the younger generation. Gen Zers in the research ranged in age from 18 to 25. According to an analysis by Realtor.com, Gen Z holds just a 2 percent share of the U.S. housing market, though as this generation ages into young adulthood, their share will rise. Additionally, with more transactions occurring online, opportunities to haggle may become increasingly rare.

  • Balancing a checkbook and writing a check.

Almost 90 percent of baby boomers know how to balance a checkbook, compared to just over half of Gen Zers. Research also revealed a sizable skill gap regarding checks between Gen Zers and millennials. About 70 percent of millennials said they could write a check or balance a checkbook if needed.This difference is likely due to online and mobile banking and the widespread use of credit and debit cards. About three-quarters of Americans use mobile apps for financial tasks like checking bank statements or making deposits. And while people still write checks, it’s a form of payment that has rapidly fallen out of favor. The most recent data from the Federal Reserve indicates that among all forms of non-cash payments, checks account for about 8 percent, down 26 percent since 2012.

  • Ironing.

Nearly 90 percent of baby boomers said they knew how to use an iron, compared to 64 percent of millennials and 56 percent of Generation Zers. This could indicate a shifting attitude toward clothing and work. In recent years, many businesses have relaxed their dress codes and allowed professionals to give up their suits and ties in favor of jeans and other casual clothes that don’t require ironing. Additionally, many employees are still working remotely since the start of the pandemic and don’t need to dress professionally while working from home.

Other life skills in decline are public speaking, salary negotiation, and reading analog clocks. They are significant ways in which younger generations may be falling behind.

Essential professional communication may be more difficult for younger workers. For example, 36 percent of Gen Zers said they know how to negotiate a raise or a salary at a job, compared to 63 percent for baby boomers and Gen Xers. Considering this generation will comprise about 30 percent of the American workforce by 2030, an inability to negotiate could pose problems.

Additionally, 58 percent of Generation Z and 63 percent of millennials said they were skilled in public speaking, compared to 71 percent of baby boomers. Many professionals have had limited opportunities to hone their face-to-face communication skills, especially since the pandemic. Combined with society’s ever-increasing reliance on smartphones, anxiety around public speaking may increase.

When it comes to domestic tasks, most people in all age groups feel confident doing things like baking or cooking without a recipe or preparing a meal for a family. But a couple of clothing-related skills may be going out of fashion. By a 31-point margin, baby boomers are more likely than Gen Zers to know how to iron clothes; similarly, they’re 28 points more likely to be able to make clothing alterations, like hemming a pair of pants or replacing a button—things only 40 percent of Gen Zers half of millennials can do.  By comparison, 61 percent of Gen Xers and 68 percent of baby boomers can.

One reason for the decline in several domestic skills could be that in many schools, family and consumer sciences (once called home economics) are either not taught or not required. An NPR (National Public Radio) anaysis found that such classes have declined over the past 20 years.

When it comes to do-it-yourself home repairs, Gen Zers are relatively competent compared to their older counterparts with using a power drill, mowing the lawn, or painting a room. Again, younger people are less likely to own homes, so, likely they have simply never had to do many such tasks. For example, 29 percent of Gen Zers know how to fix a leaky faucet. Plumbers typically charge anywhere from $45 to $200 per hour, so people of all ages would be well-advised to roll up their sleeves and get dirty.

The median income of all survey participants was between $50,000 and $74,999 a year.


Source: TheSeniorList.com provides consumer and product information for older adults and their caregivers.