A quiet grove of 90-year-old Douglas fir trees rises up from a floor of fern and moss at the northern border of Douglas County’s biggest park.
Those who visit this 20-acre section of Mildred Kanipe Memorial Park northeast of Oakland refer to it as “The Fairyland,” according to Lois Eagleton.
Eagleton literally wrote the book on rancher Mildred Kanipe and the 1,100-acre farm she willed to the county upon her death in 1983. “For Love of the Land: The Legacy of Mildred Kanipe” was published in 2008.
This forest, making up a small fraction of the park and about one-tenth of its conifer forestland, is at the center of one of the most heated debates the county government has faced over the past three decades. Douglas County Commissioner Doug Robertson said that in the 32 years he has served on the commission he has seen only a handful of issues draw as much passionate public comment as this one.
The county’s park advisory board has recommended the trees be cut to fund a campground. They believe the campground would make the park self-sustaining. County Parks Director Gary Groth says time is of the essence because a trust fund dedicated to the park is dwindling — as is the county’s general fund — and log prices are at a 15-year high.
What would Mildred do?
Eagleton’s book contains a transcription of a document in which Kanipe waxed lyrical about her trees.
“Ode to an Oak” was handwritten in pencil by Kanipe in 1974 and obtained from her niece after her death. Kanipe wrote that she feared the oaks, if they became valuable timber “like the firs would be doomed.”
Author Teresa Jordan interviewed Mildred Kanipe in the 1970s and published her story in, “Cowgirls: Women of the American West,” first published in 1982. The book quotes Mildred as saying she rebuffed suggestions to cut some of her timber.
“I wasn’t going to cut those trees, those fir trees. I was always crazy about trees,” Kanipe said.
Her will stipulated, “No timber shall be cut or harvested except as may be necessary.” Opponents and supporters of the timber harvest disagree about what “necessary” means.
Visitors to Kanipe park who return through Oakland and stop at the end of Oak Street see a poster with a large thermometer. Marked in red is the amount of money park users have pledged to build a campground and avoid the timber sale. The goal is to raise $65,000 and the red line is up to $27,000.
A loose coalition of park users has been reaching out to community members asking them to donate to make a clear-cut unnecessary. They have asked county commissioners for time to raise half the cost of the $130,000 campground and for the county to contribute the other half.
Opponents of the clear-cut point to Eagleton’s research and to Kanipe’s will to support their contention that the ranch’s former owner did not want her land to be logged.
The will no longer controls the county’s decision since the Douglas County Circuit Court in August 2012 issued a judgment dissolving the trust the will created. Still, opponents say Kanipe’s wishes should be honored.
Supporters of the clear-cut say Kanipe would have approved of the cut. They refer to photographs and sales receipts they say show Kanipe logged on her own land. They say that she would have approved of selling timber to improve the park and prevent it from running out of funds.
Norma Talburt, a member of the Mildred Kanipe Planning Committee, which made the first formal recommendation that the parcel be clear-cut, said that photographs show Kanipe logging on her land. Fellow committee member Jill Talburt said a Douglas County Museum employee showed her a large file full of receipts for Kanipe’s logs.
Eagleton contends she looked through all the museum’s Kanipe archives while researching her book and said she found some receipts, mostly for small logs rather than mature timber, but no file filled with them.
Supporters of the clear-cut say it is “necessary” to generate revenue they hope will save the park.
Norma Talburt said she believes refusal to log the park could result in it running out of money and having to be sold.
Eagleton said Kanipe had a more limited definition of acceptable logging in mind.
The forest or the trees
Cut supporters say the logging would have minimal impact on park visitors because it is a small and little-used portion of the park. Opponents disagree.
Groth, along with a forester and a few supporters of the cut, took News-Review staff members on a tour last week.
Groth said that the project would entail converting a small portion of the popular Fern Woods Trail into a dirt logging road. The stumps would not be visible from most of the trail.
Opponents say Fern Woods Trail is the park’s most popular attraction and that many of the park’s regular users go off trail and hike or ride through the forest, which they say is one of the park’s gems.
Eagleton said she believes the park’s beauty is one reason for the passion shown by those who have crowded into meeting rooms at the Douglas County Courthouse to ask county officials not to log there.
“It’s a place that is special. It’s the largest park in Douglas County for one thing. It was given to the county for people to enjoy and a lot of people enjoy it,” Eagleton said.
Linda Crosby, who owns land adjacent to the park, said she thinks it makes no sense to cut the trees.
“I have personally visited every corner of the park and all the hills in between. This proposal is targeting one of the most aesthetic portions of the Douglas County parks system,” Crosby said in a letter to commissioners.
The logging proposal has even drawn comment from tourists who visit the park.
“We urge you not to condone logging the park as a path of revenue. This is a gem of historical and natural values that we love in Douglas County!” Eugene residents Kaye and Tim Downey wrote to the commissioners.
Several logging opponents have said the park is known statewide and especially popular with equestrians.
Another reason for the contention stems from a lengthy history of debate over logging at the park. The county proposed logging there in 1999, but was opposed by the trustee, Wells Fargo Bank, which argued — as cut opponents still do — that Kanipe did not want the ranch logged to raise money to support the park.
Opponents of the current logging proposal say they believe county officials have wanted for years to turn the park into a tree plantation, with Douglas firs harvested on a 50-year rotation.
Mildred Kanipe was included in a routine timber cruise of the county’s forests in 2008, but Groth said that does not mean the county planned all along to log there.
Then and now, county officials wanted to keep their options open, he said.
“We can’t tie our hands,” Groth said.
He said he does not believe the county should log anything more than the 20 acres in the current proposal and said there are no plans to create a tree plantation at the park.
“It’s disappointing to me that they don’t just call us and ask that question,” Groth said. “Why would we change those native forests into plantations?”
Some opponents have complained they felt shut out of the process. Although many commented during lengthy park board meetings in October and November, they point out hearings were cut off before everyone had a chance to speak.
They also say the county has rushed a decision and should wait a year to allow other funds to be raised.
The county began its decision-making process with an April public meeting. The issue was addressed at three park board meetings before being brought to county commissioners last week. The commissioners have not yet made a decision.
Groth said if cut, most of the section would be replanted at 400 trees an acre and might need thinning in 10 or 15 years, but otherwise would require little if any maintenance. A small portion of the parcel would be restored to native oak savannah.
Some park users object to other provisions of the park board’s proposal, especially the extension of a road into the isolated timber stand and the spraying of herbicides to protect newly planted trees.
Groth alleviated some concerns when he told those in attendance at last Wednesday’s county commission meeting that the county intends to apply herbicide by hand rather than aerial spraying and that the road would be neither paved nor graveled.
Some logging opponents have argued the county should consider turning the park over to the state.
Groth said despite the park’s financial challenges he does not believe that will be necessary.
“It’s a real asset to the county. Mildred gave the land to the county, not to the state,” he said. “We’re really not far from being able to make this work.”
• Reporter Carisa Cegavske can be reached at 541-957-4213 or firstname.lastname@example.org.