It is impossible to think of Oregon without thinking of trees. After all, 28 million acres—or 45 percent—of land in Oregon is classified as forestland. Oregon’s state tree, the Douglas Fir, dominates the landscape along the 1-5 corridor and creates a magnificent backdrop in any season. Spiky, graceful giants are shrouded in mist during winter rains or stand in bold contrast to vibrant, blue skies in summer. Juniper and Pine in the east, Spruce-Hemlock in the west, Vine Maples dripping with moss and lichen laced in between, our trees are responsible for the tranquil beauty and that sweet, fresh air that surround you the moment you set foot here. Make sure to take a deep breath in.
The history of the state lives in the forest and our trees have many stories to tell. Checkerboard clearcut patterns tell the complex history of logging in Oregon. The timber industry has provided generations with living wages (75,000 Oregonians currently make a living from the forest) and 50 states and 40 countries with wood products. Vast swaths of State and National Forests tell of Oregonians’ love of rugged, natural beauty and their fever for outdoor recreation. And, Oregon is home to some of the nation’s oldest trees with old growth Douglas Fir stands that have at least 800 years of stories to tell to anyone who will take the time to listen.
The Oregon Travel Information Council has established the Heritage Tree Program that designates individual trees or groves of trees with statewide or national significance. Visits to these historical markers make great destinations or side trips en route to other places. They also offer a glimpse into Oregon’s heritage.
For example, there is a non-native Shagbark Hickory thriving in Milton-Freewater at the Frazier Farmstead, a historical farmhouse and museum listed on the National Register. The Frazier family carried the hickory nuts all the way from Texas on the Oregon Trail and planted them soon after the family settled the property in 1868.
In the Willamette Mission State Park, the largest black cottonwood in the nation lives near the site of the Willamette Mission that was settled in 1834. The tree stands 155 feet tall and is estimated to be 265 years old.
The Tillamook State Forest is a story of destruction and hope. From 1933 to 1951, a series of four forest fires known as the “Tillamook Burn” ravaged 355,000 acres leaving a sea of blackened snags–or tree stumps—in its wake. Two-decades of reforestation by forestry workers and volunteers re-invigorated the region with 72 million seeds. Today, a heritage marker stands in a grove of Douglas Fir planted by school children some 70 years ago.
The Tillamook Forest Center stands next to the heritage grove and interactive exhibits offer visitors a chance to experience the history of Oregon forests from homesteading to modern forestry techniques.
But, there is no better way to experience Oregon trees than to climb one. For safety and preservation purposes, it is not recommended that you attempt this feat yourself, but The Pacific Tree Climbing Institute based in Eugene leads unforgettable climbs. Arborists by trade, the guides are sensitive to leaving a light-footprint and take small groups up into the trees for either day climbs or sleepovers in “treeboats”—canvas hammocks wrapped around the trunk at one end and affixed to a tree limb at the other.
Lulled to sleep by a gentle breeze, the hoot of owls and the rush of the Santiam River below, there’s truly no better place to be than up a tree in the forests of Oregon.
Originally published in Travel Oregon magazine.