As a young boy growing up in Grants Pass, a small town in rural Southern Oregon, David Talbot developed a life-long love of the out-of-doors. Contrary to the usual values of the time, he sensed that "play" was not only fun but, much more–that it was good for you, the community and society in general.
As a Junior at the University of Oregon in 1954, he was searching for a career path when he learned that Professor Lynn Rodney was coming the following year to set up a new major in Parks and Recreation Administration. Shortly after graduation, he was appointed Director of Parks and Recreation for Grants Pass where he had grown up.
After three and a half years at Grants Pass he moved to become State Recreation Director–a position within Oregon State Parks whose primary job was to assist the rapidly growing number of cities and counties in the state that were starting parks and recreation departments. In 1964, Dave became the first graduate of the University of Oregon’s masters degree program in parks and recreation, and at the age of 31 he was selected to be head of the Oregon State Parks agency. Dave stayed with Oregon State Parks for his whole career and held the distinction of being the longest tenured state parks director in the nation when he retired. During that period he moved the agency from being part of the Highway Department to having independent status.
The start of his tenure as agency head coincided with the wave of national concern and investment in America’s out-of-doors which emerged in the mid-1960s. Oregonians are passionate about the out-of-doors – the beaches, mountains, lakes and rivers, so most of the time the state’s governor and legislators are supportive. During his tenure he served under six governors. Under his direction, Oregon became recognized for having one of the best state park systems in the country. By the end of his tenure, the system consisted of 225 parks and waysides which included campgrounds and historic sites.
Some of the most memorable highlights of his 28 years as head of Oregon State Parks included: being the first state in the nation to have its statewide outdoor recreation plan approved, releasing the flow of federal LWCF funding for cities, counties and state parks; forever protecting the state’s 226 miles of ocean beaches for public use and access through crafting the Beach Bill and vigorously defending it against challenges in the courts; management of Oregon’s unusual Wild and Scenic Rivers protection program; establishment and management of the Willamette River Greenway – an extensive park and open space effort along the entire length of the river from Eugene to Portland; implementation of new and far-reaching state and federal laws to preserve and protect Oregon’s historic resources; establishing the Columbia Gorge Scenic Recreation Area, and developing the state’s recreation trail system.
Almost single-handedly, Talbot successfully led fund raising efforts to save the lower 13 miles of the Deschutes River from private development and subsequent loss to public use. This leadership was were recognized by Governor Victor Atiyeh when he presented Dave with a special meritorious award. He spearheaded establishment of the Oregon Youth Conservation Corps in 1987 at the direction of Governor Neil Goldschmidt–a program which provided not only job opportunities for young people throughout the state, but also benefitted Oregon’s unique natural environment. He was also one of the prime movers in developing the Glenn Jackson Scholarship Program, which assists children of Department of Transportation and Parks employees in obtaining college educations.
At the conclusion of his career Dave Talbot identified four particularly challenging issues that he faced:
- Appeasing the "environmental movement" whose views of state parks were more restricted than his view that parks were for everybody. He perceived the challenge to be to ensure fragile or endangered resources were adequately protected, but also to encourage the public to use the parks.
- Land use planning in the US was pioneered in Oregon. The idea was to protect this beautiful state from over development. However, a surprising result was to give local interests the final say about where state parks were to be allowed and how they were to be developed, which Dave Talbot considered not to be a good idea.
- He inherited a white, male organization in 1964 and using affirmative action and trying to reorient the organization’s core values, were among the most difficult tasks he addressed..
- He routinely encountered people who were negative about government, but concluded, "Much of the negativism of many intelligent people who felt this way reflected their ignorance of the process. Most could not identify their elected representative, had no understanding of how they were taxed, how their taxes were spent, or how laws were made."
Reflecting on his career Dave Talbot said: "Those were wonderful years–when it seemed that just about everyone wanted to help. As a country we seemed to understand that parks were good–not just to protect their natural values but for their contribution to our economy as well. As a people, we seemed to recognize the necessity of providing recreational opportunities for our children and families. It was truly a fun time to be part of the 'Parks Team.' "