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Ponderosa pine grove work underway at Sunnyside Park
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Ponderosa pine grove work underway at Sunnyside Park

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SWEET HOME — Bob Mealey spent his entire life around trees, whether he was a district ranger on the Rigdon and Blue River Ranger Districts, operating a logging and sawmill company or nurturing a 600-plus-acre tree farm in east Linn County.

He also founded the Linn County Small Woodlands Association.

Fittingly, that group is now developing a grove of 50 valley ponderosa pine trees at Sunnyside County Park, near the Mealey family’s original homesite — which is now part of Foster Reservoir.

“We have been working with them for a couple years now,” Parks Director Brian Carroll said. “The grove will be a nice addition to the park. It is low-impact but will have a benefit to the park, and it will help promote our timber industry in Linn County.”

Tuesday Larry Mauter, Mike Melcher and Jim Cota cleared brush from the site of the future pine grove.

Saplings about 3 feet tall will soon go into the ground. Educational signs will also be established to help teach visitors to the park about the value of forestry and the reintroduction of valley ponderosa pine to the mid-valley.

Mauter said the trees came from Seven Oaks Native Plant Nursery in Albany.

“Dozens of people have worked on this project,” Mauter said.

In 1998, Mealey created a trust — the RHM Pine Fund — to help pay for developing stands of valley ponderosa pine for educational purposes.

“We see this as a pilot project,” Mauter said. “We hope we can develop other projects at places like Cheadle Lake in Lebanon or the Talking Waters Garden in Albany.”

Mauter said Linn County Small Woodlands Association members brought the idea to Carroll and the Parks Commission, which was supportive of the project.

“I can’t tell you how good Linn County Parks has been to work with,” Mauter said. “Brian Carroll, his staff and the Parks Commission have been wonderful.”

Mauter said members of the Sweet Home High School Forestry Club are being recruited to help plant the new trees.

The valley strain of ponderosa pine is found naturally along the perimeter of the Willamette Valley, and it can grow well in a variety of conditions that would prove marginal for other species.

The Mealey family is one of Sweet Home's founding families. Robert Mealey was born in 1912, graduated from Sweet Home High School in 1932 and graduated from Oregon State College in 1936.

In 1989, he was recognized as the Oregon and Western United States Regional Outstanding Tree Farmer and was a fellow of the Society of American Foresters.

In 2000, the Robert H. Mealey Willamette Valley Ponderosa Pine Native Gene Conservancy Orchard was dedicated at the Oregon Department of Forestry’s Schroeder Seed Orchard near St. Paul.

The Linn County Small Woodlands Association has “been looking for an appropriate way to both honor the memory of Bob Mealey and stay true to his desire that funds he set aside be used for community forestry education," said the chapter's incoming president, Tim Otis. "When the board considered this opportunity to plant Willamette Valley ponderosa pines in a Linn County park, along with a kiosk describing the history of their preservation and development by Bob, we knew we had found a great project.”

Valley ponderosa pines have been present in the Willamette Valley for more than 7,000 years.

Before Europeans moved into the valley in the 1850s, ponderosa pines grew in wet, boggy areas. The species depends on fires to eliminate competition from conifers.

To learn more about the Linn Small Woodlands Association, visit www. http://linncountyswa.com/.

Contact Linn County reporter Alex Paul at 541-812-6114.

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