Trample through the trees while learning about sustainable forestry at Hopkins Demonstration Forest in Oregon City.
One of our favorite things about Oregon is its forests. Those towering trees, the moss-laden limbs, the sound of a stream trickling by in the distance. There is something about them that just makes you know that fairies are hiding nearby.
Logging and forestry have long been major drivers of our economy, with forests covering almost half of Oregon’s landmass. There can be tension there, between loving our forests and needing to use the resources within them. And for sure, some companies do better than others at managing this tension.
Hopkins Demonstration Forest, which is managed and cared for by the nonprofit organization Forests Forever, is an excellent place to learn more about sustainable foresting techniques while exploring an Oregon forest. By the end of your hike, through well-placed signs, kiosks and printed materials, you’ll know about riparian management, the benefits and drawbacks of various forest harvesting techniques, and why thinning trees might actually be good for the forest’s ecology.
My kids, ages 10, 8 and 6, and I were most interested in the kiosks that explained the benefits and drawbacks of uneven-aged forests, where trees are harvested piecemeal, versus even-aged forests, where all trees are ready for harvest at the same time. It gave us the opportunity to talk about the importance of protecting the ecosystem, but also about the need to make a living. The trick is trying to balance the two.
If you want to leave the lesson behind and just focus on fairy-hunting, the Hopkins Demonstration Forest is still an excellent choice for an outdoor outing. The forest is very kid-friendly, with wide paths, towering trees, a small creek, and a good variety of ecosystems to explore. We saw lots of animals while we were there, including jays, butterflies, loads of banana slugs and signs of deer. (We also heard a cow, but we’re guessing that was from a nearby farm and not the forest.)
For us, the hit of the hike was the riparian area (otherwise known as a creek). The kids enjoyed splashing around, looking for water bugs and chasing butterflies. The close second was the heavily shrouded path of blackberries along Post Road. At the end of summer, they were ripe. And they were delicious.
There are a number of different trails you can take to create an adventure that fits the stamina and leg-length of your walking partners. We hiked the perimeter of the forest, which ended up being a bit over 3 miles. Although there were a few steep parts, for the most part, it was an easy hike, and manageable for even the youngest member of our family. (An all-terrain stroller could manage the trails as well.)
In non-COVID-19 times, the Hopkins Demonstration Forest runs field trips and other educational programs. Although these programs are currently paused, Hopkins has put up a number of videos on YouTube, including more about the history of the forest, identification of Oregon trees and even cooking foil dinners. You can find these videos here: bit.ly/34ocaeS.
The recent wildfires, which blazed through a million acres of Oregon forests in a week and threatened the Hopkins Demonstration Forest, reinforce how fragile but resilient our forests are, and our responsibility as citizens and parents to protect them. Ninety percent of forest fires are directly caused by humans, and even more when climate change is factored in. A trip to the demonstration forest, or any forest, is an excellent opportunity for us to teach our kids our role in protecting these natural treasures.
Hopkins Demonstration Forest, 16750 S Brockway Rd., Oregon City, 503-632-2150, demonstrationforest.org. Free admission, with donations encouraged.