By staff of Friends of the Columbia Gorge Land Trust, The Nature Conservancy, Trailkeepers of Oregon, and Wasco County Master Naturalists
On July 12, the Gorge community lost a friend, neighbor, and dedicated volunteer with the sudden passing of Colin Zylka.
Seeking to enjoy retirement in the Columbia Gorge, Colin and his wife Jean moved to Mosier, Oregon, in 2017. But “retirement” for Colin meant diving into volunteer activities to help the land and people around him. He worked ceaselessly among multiple groups including Friends of the Columbia Gorge, The Nature Conservancy, Master Gardeners, Master Naturalists, Trailkeepers of Oregon, the Oregon Bee Atlas, local ham radio groups, and others.
Colin was a regular at Friends of the Columbia Gorge volunteer stewardship work parties and a member of Friends' community of Gorge protectors. He was known for his hard work, can-do attitude, and kindness to those around him. This past January Colin was recognized with the Friends stewardship volunteer of the year award for 2019. He and Jean volunteered to help pilot new stewardship strategies during the coronavirus pandemic.
The Nature Conservancy benefited from Colin’s stalwart volunteer service at the Conservancy’s Tom McCall Preserve where he educated the public about the beautiful landscape and wildflowers, occasionally reminding folks about trail rules. He was always a pleasure to work with, was generous with his time, and even sheltered a group of wet Naturalists at his house when last year’s training got rained out. Colin also helped maintain trails at the preserve and not long before his death had completed cutting back poison oak. That’s true dedication!
"I met Colin out at one of our trail parties at Mosier Plateau trail," said Steve Kruger, Trailkeepers of Oregon's executive director. "He made an impression on me from the get-go, partly because he was from Wisconsin like me, and I recruited him to come to our crew leader training. He was officially one of our assistant crew leaders, 'orange hats' as we call them. He had a dedication to the Mosier/Rowena area, helping out at Mosier Plateau to assist in the constant care of the switchbacks. Colin was such a nice guy and avid supporter."
He joined the Oregon State University Master Naturalist Gorge Eco-Region field course in 2018 with great enthusiasm and thirst for knowledge. He jumped right in with sharing what he learned as a volunteer.
Colin’s service set a shining example of what we all could strive to be. He filled his life to the brim, continuing to learn and grow while sharing his time and energy generously with his community. We all miss him dearly and will endeavor to honor his brief but brilliant legacy of service in the Gorge by continuing on the path.