What’s a Forest to Do?: As McDonald’s Timber Revenues Fall, Recreation Rises

The McDonald-Dunn Forest overlooking Corvallis is a part of the fabric of the community, so quiet and benign that it’s easy to overlook its “real job” as a site for research, education, and development. The college has always accommodated the public in a casual partnership, offering access to most of its 11,000 acres thanks to a healthy timber market that keeps it running. Now a decrease in timber harvests has choked recreation funds, prompting an Oregon State University College of Forestry study by Dr. Mark Needham and Dr. Randy Rosenberger to look for ways to capitalize on its beloved reputation as a way to recoup disappearing funds.

The study brought to light an obvious point for Corvallis: we love our forest, to the tune of more than 115,000 visits annually. How do we show our love? In hiking boots and running shoes, with our dogs, our bikes, and sometimes our horses. The study also reveals the public’s desire to show love through donations, even though we don’t always know where to give. The College of Forestry plans to tap into voluntary donations and help close the gap.

Of nearly 1,500 local residents surveyed, most had mixed opinions on the idea of implementing a mandatory fee. Ruling that out, the study recommends educating the public about how and where to donate, attracting more public events like the McDonald Forest 50K Run, hosting music events, and considering possible cost shares with the city or county.

Mountain Biking Collaborations

As the college looks to the public for revenue, it stands to reason that an active and local class of outdoor enthusiasts—mountain bikers—would be an ideal partner.

The typical mountain biker is unique; he or she requires more land resources than a hiker, but it’s hard to find a more fervent athlete willing to spend time and money on their muddy pursuit. This has translated locally into cyclists making a name for popular and heavily used trails like Dan’s and Extendo. Networks of unauthorized trails also exist and are maintained by some riders.

When asked specifically about mountain biking culture in Corvallis, Mac-Dunn Recreation Manager Ryan Brown said mountain bikers are possible collaborators with the college in a fund-finding mission.

“I foresee being involved with the mountain bike community,” Brown said, “so we end up with an recreation program that is reasonable to maintain.”

Brown took the position of recreation manager this fall, following the appointment of the new Director of College Forests John Mann earlier this year. These changes leave local mountain bike supporter Mike Ripley optimistic, as he senses the college’s renewed focus in recreation.

“I’m excited about the plan,” said Ripley, chair of Team Dirt, a Corvallis-based chapter of the International Mountain Biking Association. He added that he’s excited to look at ways to give existing authorized trails more purpose, interest, and safety.

Excitement and potential are Ripley’s specialties: he’s played a central role in the mountain biking scene in Corvallis since he started building trails in 1990. He balances a commitment to making mountain bike culture a less fragmented group while promoting proper and legitimate trails that aren’t boring—a label he says has sometimes been applied to Corvallis’ trails. Team Dirt and its approximately 60 members collectively donated nearly 500 hours of labor on local trails last year. Ripley said Team Dirt doesn’t support illegal trails, which don’t always stay within the boundaries of a 10 percent grade and don’t take into account long-term environmental effects.

“If we can put effort into legal trails, I think illegal trails will decrease significantly, because [mountain bikers] will be excited to ride,” he said. “I think that’s what the plan is about. Our door is not closed to the opportunity to create more official trails. We want to do it systematically and thoughtfully, taking into consideration the interests of all forest users in addition to the purposes of the forests. If people are interested in developing additional trails, we ask them to work with us directly to explore the idea together.”
Biking Starker Forests

As OSU balances recreation with research, a neighboring private forest landowner is responding to increased mountain bike activity in its own way. If you ever ride the Mac-Dunn, chances are you’ll hopscotch Starker Forests property. This timber company’s lands weave in and out of OSU forests, and like the college, it allows cyclists wide use of trails and old logging roads. Starker Forestry Manager Marc Vomocil said the bike trails don’t take land out of timber production, and Starker doesn’t take responsibility for building or maintaining trails. Numerous old “skid” roads, created by dragging logs from the cut site to the roadside, are unsuitable for vehicles but ideal for hikers and bikers. Welcoming cyclists on their land is a smart move for the Corvallis-based, family-owned forestry business, whose tagline “We grow forests, not just trees” highlights their goal to actively manage their forests for many benefits, and their desire for positive public relations.

Hikers, hunters, and cyclists who want to use Starker lands must obtain a free permit. Vomocil said there has been talk about diversifying their business model, and perhaps building more trails and selling permits, but that’s not happened yet.

As both forests consider recreational revenue, how does this play into the future of the local mountain biking scene?

“I’m sure we’ll be a part of the plan,” said Vomocil of OSU’s strategic planning effort. “It’s likely we’ll cooperate in such a venture.”

He added that he met with Brown recently, gave her his card, and told her to call when she’s ready.

Until these plans are made and set into action, Ripley and Team Dirt continue to blaze authorized mountain bike trails throughout the greater Corvallis area, building them to be sturdy and interesting while avoiding thrilling but environmentally harmful grades and stunts. Ripley carries this out with diplomacy. Fully aware that mountain bikers are one of the newest groups in town, he recognizes the potential conflict between bikers and other trail users.

“We hold a big responsibility,” he said. “Everyone wants to have their own personal experience on the trails. The crucial point is to make it better for bikers, hikers, and equestrians.”

Contributions can be made online to the OSU Foundation at www.campaignforosu.org, or by writing a check with “Research Forests Recreation Fund” in the memo line. Those interested in volunteering can email colforestvolunteer@oregonstate.edu.

by Kerry Brown