(Photo above: The arborist work party last November helped move forward the Grove of the States restoration project. | Photos Courtesy of Oregn Travel Experience)
The Oregon Heritage Tree Program announce the Class of 2017 Heritage Trees. This year, three groves of significant Oregon trees will be honored. Two groves located in Central Oregon are slated to be recognized during a ceremony in July, while a collection of state trees near Portland will be honored on their 50th anniversary in late August.
A.M. Drake Ponderosa Pines
The Huntington Wagon Road Junipers and the A.M. Drake Homestead Ponderosa Pines grow near the City of Bend. Both groves represent Central Oregon history and a connection to the people who settled or passed underneath their branches. Their survival over the last several hundred years makes them the perfect ambassadors to new generations of Oregon history lovers.
Nate Pedersen, a member of the Oregon Heritage Tree Committee and Community Librarian for the Deschutes Public Library, nominated the Central Oregon trees. He described why the two groves are notable in their own communities as well as connected to the rest of the state.
“So much of Bend life centers around Drake Park, which is kind of Bend’s shared living room,” said Pedersen. “It’s humbling to look at the A.M. Drake Homestead old-growth Ponderosas and think about all they have witnessed. These trees were already old when Alexander and Florence Drake arrived in Central Oregon in 1900 to build their homestead, and they stood tall throughout the entire development of Bend, from its population of a few dozen people to the over 81,000 living here today.”
The A.M. Drake Ponderosa Pines are approximately 300 hundred years old and shade the spot where the Drake homestead lodge once stood. After the Drakes moved to California, the lodge was owned by a succession of organizations and prominent Bend citizens. When the original home was demolished in the 1950s several other trees in the grove were lost. However, three trees survived and will receive the award.
Huntington Wagon Road Junipers
Pedersen also explained the significance of the other Central Oregon honoree, the Huntington Wagon Road Junipers.
“If you’ve ever spent time in the high desert of Oregon, you soon discover how easy it is to become disoriented in a wilderness of Western Juniper trees,” Pedersen noted. “I began to realize how important these old blazed (marked) trees were for early travelers on the Huntington Wagon Road.”
Following the line of a very old Native American trail, the Huntington Wagon Road was marked by J.W. Petit Huntington in 1864 as a route between The Dalles and Fort Klamath. When the road was firmly established, it was used by prospectors, homesteaders, soldiers, and tradesman. Warm Springs Indian scouts frequently used the road in skirmishes with the Paiutes between 1865 and 1867. Much of the original road later became OR Hwy 97.
One Juniper along the historic road is particularly meaningful to Pedersen and to visitors trekking a looping two-mile trail that crosses part of the original Huntington Wagon Road. It is a scrappy specimen known as the “Target Tree,” primarily for its notches and scars from bullet holes. The bullets were most likely souvenirs from soldiers who camped nearby and who used the tree for target practice.
“For me history really comes alive when you touch the bullet holes on the Target Tree,” said Pedersen. “When I think about those unknown soldiers, lost to history… I have to admit that I experience a visceral connection with the past.”
Grove of the States
The third honoree in the Class of 2017 Heritage Trees is a historic arboretum of state trees. The Grove of the States is located at the French Prairie Rest Area on southbound I-5.
In 1967 Oregon Attorney General Robert Y. Thornton hosted the 61st annual conference of the National Association of Attorneys General in Portland. As part of a conference event, Thornton planned for the Grove of the States as a homage to First Lady, Lady Bird Johnson, and her work fostering the 1965 Highway Beautification Act (HBA).
When Thornton created plans for the Grove, he involved two major Oregon partners: The Oregon State Highway Department (today–the Oregon Department of Transportation) contributed the site, and the Oregon Association of Nurserymen (now known as the Oregon Association of Nurseries) provided tree stock for the original collection.
In 2010 the Oregon Travel Information Council (DBA Oregon Travel Experience) undertook long-term management of the French Prairie Rest Area. However, officials recognized that the Grove of the States suffered serious health issues, and began looking for solutions to restore the Grove.