“Getting away from it all” is easier than you’d think when you cross the Coast Fork of the Willamette River and wander through the woods of a Eugene natural area that is prized for peacefulness, serenity and spectacular wildflower shows. Journey to the southern end of the Willamette Valley to see how they hold on to history and preserve Oregon’s botanical past at the Mount Pisgah Arboretum.
In the southern Willamette Valley, less than ten minutes from Eugene, it’s easy to find Oregon’s “wild places.” It’s where the quality of life at Mount Pisgah Arboretum is especially fine, according to Tom LoCascio – my guide and the Arboretum’s manager – who led me across miles of trails on the 200-plus acre island of protection. “I am going to take you somewhere that shows what the southern Willamette Valley is all about, Grant. We offer a place that is a bit closer to the nature of Oregon through varied types of forests, plants and other vegetation – especially wildflowers. The people of Oregon really value that quality – a certain quality of life – and we have that here for your enjoyment,” he said.
Tom was right! The Mount Pisgah Arboretum provides a view to Oregon that’s not much different than the scene the pioneers might have seen 150 years ago. That is especially true right now, when wildflowers wait for your admiring glances at each bend in the trails. From diminutive swarms of Baby Blue Eyes to solitary Candy Flower, or stunning Wild Blue Iris to the small groupings of Shooting Stars, all of the flowers are quite beautiful at this time of year.
Tom noted that more than 300 different native wildflowers species can be seen across the Arboretum’s grounds beginning as early as February and continuing through July. It is astounding to see so much color in so many different types of habitats that include Douglas fir or cedar groves, plus rare Willamette Valley oak woodlands and the fast disappearing white oak savannah.
Many of the Arboretum’s meadows explode to life beginning in mid-April when brilliant blue camas fields come to life. “We have places where you can view a blue sea of color beginning in late April and continuing through May,” noted LoCascio with a smile. “So bring a camera when you come for you cannot take enough pictures.”
Meg Trendler, a longtime Eugene resident, added with a beaming smile, “This is a place that simply lifts your heart for what Oregon looked like one hundred, 400, or 500 years ago. What the folks have done here is akin to preserving old architecture by preserving the natural flora and fauna that’s in the area.”
And there is more – especially if you like to roll on wheels! Less than 20 miles away, near Cottage Grove, be sure to explore the new Covered Bridges Scenic Bikeway. It provides an outstanding reason to pack a lunch and spend a day enjoying more of the Southern Willamette Valley point of view.
You’ll love rolling through six bridges on a 36-mile stretch of flat, paved bikeway as you glide past scenery that takes your breath away. “It adds to everything that’s already here: nearby mountains with rivers and Dorena Lake for boating, fishing, camping and hiking. The new state scenic bikeway adds to the flavor of the place,” said longtime resident Greg Lee.
Covered bridges were torn down by the thousands across the country in the past century and only a handful of communities really recognized how great and important they were; Cottage Grove is one of those places.
Blair Winter showed up a couple years ago and added a key ingredient to the Cottage Grove pot when he bought Rainy Peak Bicycles, the town’s only bike shop. Winter is an ambassador of sorts for the fast growing two-wheeled recreation and said the new Covered Bridges Bikeway is perfect fit for the southern end of the Willamette Valley.
“It’s family friendly and a light traffic, really easy-to-ride route; a good percentage is dedicated bike path so there’s no traffic and you’re very safe and you just kind of get right out into nature,” said Winter. If you don’t normally travel with your bike, not to worry. Rainy Peak also rents bikes, so you can cruise in, rent a bike and get on the new bikeway in a matter of minutes.
“A lot of people that I know haven’t considered getting a bike until now,” added Greg Lee. “But they see the trail and say, ‘Oh I can do that. That’s flat, safe and I can bring the kids. So, the trail is like a stepping-stone for getting out to other places too.”
It’s really is true – especially back at Mount Pisgah Arboretum, where your curiosity can lead you where imagination travels. “People come here because they would like a glimpse of what the vast Willamette Valley once looked like, noted LoCascio. “This place is a good representation of what it is that makes Oregon such a beautiful place to live or work or play.”