Grant's Getaways: Oregon's Heritage Trees


by Grant McOmie / KGW

Posted on February 3, 2011 at 3:25 PM

Updated Thursday, Feb 3 at 3:25 PM

When you’ve a camera in your hands and a “Heritage Tree” in your line of sight – you better have it in clear focus.

Steve Dierckx and Michael Horodyski are landscape photographers who say their eyes open wide with wonder and pride when a real giant comes into view: like the giant sequoias that line the walkway to the Washington County Courthouse in Hillsboro.

Steve noted, “They act like sentinels; very scenic, picturesque.”

Michael added as he took a quick photo, “These century-old trees are not only unusual – they are in rare company across the state too.”

He’s right!

They join more than fifty other trees called Oregon’s “Heritage Trees.”

They are part of a unique program sponsored by the Oregon Travel Information Council that was established in the mid-90’s to recognize Oregon’s special trees.

You may have seen some: like the “Hager Pear Tree” at the hectic junction of I5 and State Highway 22 in Salem. Planted in 1848, the old tree was part of a huge orchard that supplied fruit across the state. It’s the only one left.

Or the "Waldo Redwood" in downtown Salem: although small in acreage, it is a huge park in stature that’s located right next to the capitol building.

Or inside Willamette Mission State Park: home to the oldest cottonwood tree in the country.

Paul Ries, the Oregon Dept of Forestry representative to the Heritage Tree Committee said, “This tree is not only old – 225 years or more – but you or I could not get our arms around this tree- we’d need, 5,6,7 more of us just to do that.”

Ries added that Oregon’s Heritage Trees are living legacies; often planted by pioneer ancestors and they are links to Oregon’s rural roots.

“We really take trees for granted,” said Ries. “They provide us so many benefits: clean air, clean water, lumber products, places to recreate, but there is also that personal connection we have with trees – they help make that connection to the things that have happened in our past and help us understand the present.”

Ries was quick to note that the entire program owed a huge debt of thanks to one man who made it all possible: life-long Salem resident, Maynard Drawson.

“Maynard Drawson had such a passion for trees!” said Ries with a knowing smile. “And that’s really a benefit to the program because every tree has a story to tell and although his profession was a barber, he was a story-teller at heart.”

Stories like the “Nyberg English Chestnut” located at the Nyberg Road exit off I-5 in Tualatin, Oregon.

He was a man who said “No” to progress so to save a very old and very significant chestnut tree.

John Nyberg was a simple but brave farmer at the turn of the 20th Century.

In 1903, he planted an orchard of more than 150 trees that grew tall and gorgeous – the orchard included several stately English Chestnut Trees.

But in 1954, bulldozers were building the interstate highway and the big old trees were in the right of way and they were coming down at break-neck speed.

150 had fallen on the Nyberg farm  - many were planted in the 19th century.

Grandson Arne Nyberg said that most had fallen and there was just one tree left – this one - when his grand-dad said “No more.”

“The D-9 cat was pushing them over right and left and that’s where he where he took his stand – he literally stood in front of the cat and stopped it from bulldozing down the last chestnut tree. Imagine that! He was a small but brave man and what a rare Oregon story about how a citizen can save a tree.”

Heritage Trees don’t have to be the oldest or the biggest or even a native tree but the candidate for consideration sure needs to have a good story.

Like the story behind the “Student Planter’s Grove” in the Tillamook State Forest; a grove of Doug firs planted by children nearly 60 years ago.

Ries explained: “The story of the Tillamook State Forest is a story of rebirth and renewal and that grove signifies that. – many of the trees were planted by school kids following several devastating fires that burned much of the forest to the ground. It’s an amazing story.”

The “Valley of the Giants” is an amazing heritage deep in the Oregon coast range, where you can walk among 500-year-old Doug fir trees.

“For those that make the effort to get there it is an amazing remnant of what was once here throughout much of Oregon, noted Ries. “It’s a small valley of giants trees and you feel very small against some of the big trees that grow in the place.”

Back at the Washington County Courthouse, Steve and Michael agreed the giant sequoias are not only super models – but the stories in the trees will teach you much about our state.

“I love trees,” said Horodyski. “ I mean that’s one of the great things we’ve got in this state; so many trees and so many varieties and so many great stories.”