Gambler 500 blends fun with cleaning up our woods

The gut-wrenching view of the beauty of the Illinois Valley with a pile of trash.
(Photo courtesy of Lou Peterson for the Illinois Valley News)

The Gambler 500, an event designed to appeal to those who love unusual vehicles and want to help clean up our public lands, is coming to Cave Junction from Friday, May 5, to Sunday, May 7.
Local artist and small business owner Lou Peterson describes themself as a “third-generation Oregonian” whose familial history includes many loggers, fishermen and horticulturalists. They spend much of their time honoring their connection to the land, foraging, hiking and enjoying the fresh air and beautiful scenery. That scenery, however, has become compromised in recent years. Peterson has been taking note of the copious amounts of garbage that has been left behind in local forests, even going so far as to create sculptures out of the garbage they find on their adventures to call attention to this growing problem.
It is hard to identify why this is a recurring issue, specifically, but the fact of the matter remains- this issue is a serious problem for our ecosystem, and for residents who would like to enjoy the many amenities that our national parks and BLM land have to offer. Peterson began posting photographs of their findings, including piles of discarded farming supplies and rusted vehicles sitting in the middle of the woods, to social media. They soon discovered that they were not alone in their concern for our public lands, as community members began commenting on the posts and openly asking, “How can I help?”
That was when Peterson realized that community action was possible, and they began to consider an event that they had been following since its central Oregon inception in 2014- the Gambler 500.
The idea is simple- community members modify their “best junker car” with the goal of taking the vehicle on a planned route through the wilderness to pick up trash. Vehicle modifications can be as simple as spray paint and stickers, or as complex as a lifted limousine. Participants are encouraged to get as creative as possible when designing their Gamblers. There will be four 30-yard drop boxes strategically placed throughout the area where participants can dispose of whatever garbage they find along the way. The event is scheduled to start Friday, May 5, and go until Sunday, May 7, with the main clean-up day taking place Saturday, May 6.
Peterson explained, “I am a Gambler 500 superfan: Ever since I first heard about them I have wanted to participate.” Although Gambler vehicles come through Cave Junction once a year while en route to other locations, this year will be the first time that such an event will be held in the Illinois Valley. They describe the event as being “the perfect sport for Cave Junction,” citing the many “strangely modified and creatively held-together” vehicles that can be seen around town on a regular basis as something that serves to back up their reasoning.
As this is a three-day event, Peterson has also gone the extra mile in offering low-cost camping and entertainment for participants. They co-own Silent Treatment, a multifaceted entertainment company, with their partner Jayson Oten, and the pair has found an interesting way to combine their business with the Gambler event. Participants are invited to camp at Silent Treatment headquarters at 3675 Caves Highway on the evenings of May 5 and 6. For $10 a car, campers can enjoy disc golf, music, food, and even a “flaming art” display courtesy of Peterson’s mother. There will also be a raffle with a multitude of prizes from local businesses and artisans, as well as a contest where participants can win prizes in categories like “biggest piece of trash picked up” and “largest rust hole in a vehicle.”
Since they began posting about it on social media earlier this year, Peterson has been pleased by the amount of community members and local businesses that have expressed interest in the event. They have already procured several sponsors from local businesses: Taylor’s Sausage, Rosie’s Inferno, Napa Auto Parts, and Selma Secondhand are only some examples, with many more eager to contribute to this cause. This only serves to prove the point that Peterson has been trying to make all along through their art. “Every single one of us wants a clean and usable forest,” they explained, adding that “this is a common goal that we can all share.”
If you have any further questions about the Gambler 500 event, or if you would like to donate or participate, please contact Lou Peterson at 541-450-5485 for more information.