Effort highlights work of forester Bob Mealey in reintroducing Ponderosas throughout the Willamette Valley
More than a decade in the making, an environmental education project at Linn County’s Sunnyside Park is complete. A dedication ceremony has been scheduled for Saturday, Oct. 15. The 9 a.m. gathering will be at the project site, located on the northeast corner of Foster Reservoir just east of Sweet Home.
A grove of young Willamette Valley Ponderosa pines and a two-sided information kiosk featuring information about the pines and their revival in the valley are featured. The timbers used in building the kiosk are locally grown and milled Ponderosa pine.
The kiosk project has been financed through an education fund provided by Robert H. Mealey (1912-2007) to the Linn County Small Woodlands (LCSWA) to promote the management of family forest lands in the Linn County area.
Ponderosa Pine was once a major tree species in the Willamette Valley but had been reduced to scattered individual trees and small patch. Efforts in the 1980s to restore this tree species, which is a dominate tree species in wet and dry soil areas, were stymied by the non-existence of seed from native Willamette Valley Ponderosa pine. Ponderosa pine native to Southern or Central Oregon cannot handle the wetter Western Oregon climate.
Mealey was a Linn County forest landowner from the Sweet Home area, and a professional forester. He played a key role in the collection of seed from local Ponderosa pine trees and personally financed the growing of pine seedling for Willamette Valley family forest landowners. Once forest nurseries saw that there was a demand for Willamette Valley Ponderosa pine, they invested in the seed collection and growing of seedlings.
“It has been a long process to decide how to honor Bob and his efforts to reestablish Ponderosa Pine in the Willamette Valley,” said Tim Otis, LCSWA President. Otis recently put the finishing touches on the Ponderosa pine kiosk project. Jim Cota, Joe Holmberg and Larry Mauter, all LCSWA members, played key roles in building the kiosk and planting the adjacent pine grove.
“Mealey was a consummate forester,” said Holmberg. “He was a tree farmer and a LCSWA leader. He was also an initial member of the Willamette Valley Ponderosa Pine Conservation Association. The association, established in the early 1990s, has led the effort to restore Ponderosa pine in the Willamette Valley through establishing a stable supply of high-quality valley pine seed. “I think Bob is smiling as he looks down on the 10,000 valley pine I have planted on former hay fields on our tree farm,” Holmberg added.
Mealey was also a poet. “If you would like some inspiration,” Holmberg suggested, “read Bob’s poem ‘Why Does an Old Man Plant a Tree.’” A section of this poem is captured in a panel on the Sunnyside Park pine kiosk.
Mealey’s forest career spanned 50 years. He worked for the USDA-Forest Service and rose to the level of Forest Supervisor. He retired in 1973. The WVPPCA established in 2000 the Willamette Valley Ponderosa Pine seeding orchard at the Oregon Department of Forestry Schroeder Seed Orchard near St Paul. In honor of all the effort Mealey put into the restoration of Ponderosa pine west of the Cascades, the orchard is titled The Robert H. Mealey Willamette Valley Ponderosa Pine Native Gene Conservancy Orchard.
In building the Sunnyside Park pine kiosk two Linn County businesses played a part. The Kiosk pine grove trees were purchased from Seven Oaks Native Nursery located south of Albany, and the heavy-gauge aluminum kiosk signs were manufactured by Foress Sign and Manufacturing located in Albany.
In an agreement with Linn County Parks, the LCSWA has pledged to maintain the signs and pine grove.
With the completion of this education project, there is the opportunity to establish additional pine groves coupled with environmental education signs, said Otis.