When we heard about the reopening of Oregon State University’s McDonald and Dunn Research Forests starting Friday, we almost channeled former Beaver football coach Mike Riley and erupted in an old school “Hip, hip, hooray!”
The trails there are a bit of wholesome fun that we’ve been missing tremendously during the novel coronavirus pandemic. The reopening of the research forests, even on a trial basis, is a victory and a cause for celebration.
We won’t fault OSU for closing the recreation area on March 23 for safety reasons, though we disagreed with the shutdown. The system of paths and gravel roadways through the research forest is massive, and we believed that limiting parking or closing the most popular and largest lot, near Peavy Arboretum, would have spread out hikers, trail runners and mountain bikers and encouraged a bit of social distancing.
Yes, that Peavy parking lot was a mess, but our ink-stained hiking crew knows many of the less frequented spots in Mac-Dunn, as it’s known by the kids and those young at heart — it’s aerobic exercise climbing all those hills out there, right?
Why, just two days before the closure, some of us went for a 5-mile trek on a gravel road in the woods northwest of Adair Village. We saw a grand total of four people in two hours. Six feet for social distancing was never an issue, and 10 feet wouldn’t have been a problem, either.
The shutdown of Mac-Dunn was frustrating not only because it took the largest trail system in Linn and Benton counties off the board, but also because it resulted in crowded conditions elsewhere. With no research forests to frolic in, residents flocked to other places, which could seem far busier than usual.
For example, if you frequent Bald Hill you’ve probably started your walk at the Benton County Fairgrounds more than usual during this public health crisis. Snatching a parking spot at one of the other lots can feel a bit like winning the lottery lately. But what’s another mile or so on your way to and from Fitton Green?
We also realize that more people have been hiking on our lovely trails in the mid-Willamette Valley, because during Oregon’s stay-at-home order you can watch only so much amazing or absolutely abhorrent television — which one of those categories features tigers has become a critical personality test for our bored era. For the record, “Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood” is great for kids. But we digress.
Again, the closure of Mac-Dunn combined with a surge of people hiking regularly resulted in increased pressure at other trailheads and, perhaps ironically, made it harder to socially distance while enjoying nature. As a result, outdoors enthusiasts traveled a bit more to find spots with fewer people. Sometimes we discovered gems off the beaten path, but other times the secret spot was a fugazi that made us miss the massive playground so close to our hometown even more.
So of course we welcome the reopening of Mac-Dunn, with its nearly 30 miles of pathways so easily accessible to residents of Corvallis and Adair Village, not to mention those living in Philomath, Albany, Lebanon and elsewhere. This is a destination, part of weekly or monthly habits for many mid-valley residents.
We don’t even mind about the forest guards — sorry, “greeters” — who will be stationed at Mac-Dunn, and we’ll abide by the new rules requiring a facial covering when we come across other visitors. We promise.
We have a mask, we have a bandanna, we have a Buff. We’ll wear all three at once if necessary.
We’ll be there soon.
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