Appreciate Benton County’s natural areas? Consider joining AFRANA

Fort Hoskins in Kings Valley looking down at the Commander's House over the rolling hills through the fog
Friday, January 31, 2020

Benton County residents who enjoy local parks and natural areas show their support in many ways, like visiting and volunteering. But if you are looking for an even closer connection to nature and your community, the Alliance for Recreation and Natural Areas, AFRANA for short, is looking for new members.

Since it was formed in 2012 by retired parks director Jeff Powers and other boosters, AFRANA has made significant contributions to the maintenance and improvement of many natural areas. AFRANA has also facilitated community planning efforts and brought thousands of schoolchildren and residents closer to the outdoors.​

AFRANA is guided by a five-member volunteer board, including current Benton County Parks and Natural Areas Director Laurie Starha. 

“It’s amazing what a handful of people can accomplish,” Starha said. “They have contributed so much to local recreation, as well as to Benton County’s natural areas.”

AFRANA’s scope encompasses more than just county-owned spaces. The non-profit organization collaborates with other public and private agencies and groups. Through AFRANA, many projects have been planned, facilitated and funded, including improvements to the Willamette River Trail and the boardwalk at Jackson-Frazier Wetland, a major renovation of the Commander’s House at Fort Hoskins and a meadow restoration project underway on Marys Peak to name just a few.

Additionally, AFRANA volunteers have hosted outreach meetings for North Albany Park and Bellfountain Park, partnered with the county to host disc golf events at Adair County Park, and serve as docents at Fort Hoskins events.

AFRANA’s biggest attribute is being able to connect communities through shared interests, Starha said. 

“We want to get the word out about AFRANA and invite more people to get involved,” she said. 

AFRANA serves as an umbrella organization for other groups working toward common goals. These include the South Benton County Recreation Alliance and Marys Peak Alliance. Participants in South Benton County are working with Benton County, the City of Monroe and the U.S. Corps of Engineers on projects near Monroe to create safe routes to school, as well as increase access to and improve parks. 

The friends of Marys Peak group collaborates with Siuslaw National Forest, training interpreters and fundraising to bring between 500 and 600 school children from Benton and Linn counties on field trips to the Coast Range’s highest mountain. The alliance is also working with the Forest Service on an interpretation plan for Marys Peak Scenic-Botanical Special Interest Area, including raising money to pay for displays.

Longtime AFRANA member Phil Hayes serves as treasurer for the organization. He became involved through his service on Benton County Natural Areas and Parks Advisory Board. Hayes enjoys volunteering and working to support projects and events. But it’s not the only reason he’s stayed involved and encourages others to join. 

“I receive even more satisfaction because AFRANA has helped people to achieve their goals for improving their communities, and promoting outdoor education and an appreciation of natural areas,” Hayes said. 

Get involved
The Alliance for Recreation and Natural Areas welcomes new members and volunteers. To learn more about local events and see how you can be involved, visit