Justin Williams doesn't know it, but he just might miss the spiders that Clatsop County residents keep bringing to him for identification.

The friendly Oregon State University county extension agent is heading for a job in Cheyenne, Wyo., this week. He leaves after four years as the head of the local 4-H/Agriculture programs, including the Master Gardener training program.

And he departs in the middle of our busy spider season. About a spider a day is brought into the Extension Office for identification and counsel, say the Extension Office staff. Williams can often be found in a back room of the busy office, trying to calm a spider down long enough for him to positively identify it under a microscope.

"I've had a really good time here, and have enjoyed my stay," says Williams, fresh from an encounter with a frisky arachnid.

Williams says he's pleased to have helped fill every Master Gardener training class that he's led so far, and is proud of the 75 active MG volunteers currently involved with the program.

The local Master Gardener organization will hold a meeting and potluck reception for Williams at 7 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 16, at the Clatsop County Fairgrounds. Attendees are asked to bring a potluck dish. Dessert will be provided.

Williams is a Wyoming native, having grown up in Casper, so the move to the Wyoming Department of Agriculture as a program coordinator in the Natural Resources Department makes sense. Williams would like to buy a house and some land and settle down to raise horses and work. His new position involves coordinating communication and interaction between agriculture interests, such as ranch owners, and government agencies, such as the Bureau of Land Management. Some of his work will entail working with ranchers to live side-by-side with animals such as wolves, grizzly bears and black-footed ferrets.

Although his first day is Oct. 4, Williams has sent his three horses ahead to stay with his parents until his arrival in Wyoming. He relishes the prospect of expanding his horse operation into a breeding and training business during his off time.

During his four-plus years in the Clatsop County post, Williams says he saw great progress with the Master Gardener program. The trained garden volunteers created a display border at the Clatsop County Fairgrounds, taught children and adults about gardening and performed all manner of volunteer garden service.

"The group is really strong," he says. "We've had good retention of our numbers and students are taking up leadership roles."

One job the Master Gardeners will take on until Williams' replacement is found is planning and running the annual Master Gardener training, which starts in winter. Williams estimates about a six-month window before his position is filled.

As for the local 4-H groups, Williams compliments area youth with raising the quality of their livestock. Kids are learning how to identify good animals, and how to bring them to optimal performance, he says.

"There are some young men and women who have a possibility of entering an agricultural profession, despite that they are coming from a traditionally nonfarming community," says Williams. "4-H is a strong youth development program in Clatsop County."

Williams has been impressed with the amount of local support he has seen for 4-H.

"The community understands and supports the needs for positive youth programs," he says. "In order for it to continue, we need to have parents and the community continue the partnership."

Another collaboration that has been a success for the extension agent is the partnership between the Master Gardener organization and the Astoria Sunday Market. The market has been a perfect chance for the garden volunteers to have a presence, and to serve the public by answering questions, making suggestions and identifying plants and garden visitors, including those busy spiders, most of which aren't poisonous, Williams reminds.

"I didn't know anybody when I started," says Williams. "But I've met a lot of wonderful people here and do feel part of the community."

Cathy Peterson belongs to the Clatsop County Master Gardener Association. Send comments and gardening news to "In the Garden," The Daily Astorian, P.O. Box 210, Astoria, OR 97103 or online to peterson@pacifier.com

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