Donated land to become more like Ecola State Park

A management plan for the Elmer Feldenheimer State Natural Area, east of Ecola State Park, is about to make the wish of the land’s donor come true.

Marie Louise Feldenheimer gifted the state 1,467 acres of former industrial timberland between 1977 and 1990. Her wish, codified in an agreement with the state, was to “restore the property to a historic old-growth natural habitat as the property existed at the time Lewis and Clark first discovered the site in 1806.”

The Oregon Parks and Recreation Department Nov. 19 outlined a management plan that, in the coming decades will turn the vulnerable, monocultured timberland of Elmer Feldenheimer State Natural Area into a place more like the old-growth forest in the adjoining Ecola State Park.

“Really Feldenheimer is kind of an undiscovered property in our parks system,” said Katie Duzik, a natural resource specialist with the department.

Duzik said that after nearly 25 years of owning the property outright, the department has the stewardship staff to tackle Feldenheimer.

“There’s also a sense of urgency for the forest-dependent species,” said Duzik, noting the lack of old-growth stands in Clatsop County and the timberland surrounding Feldenheimer and Ecola.

Of Clatsop County ’s 529,000 acres, nearly 94 percent is forested. The state and county own 28 percent of the timberlands in Clatsop County, with a restriction on exports of unprocessed timber, and the remaining 72 percent are privately owned, split between large and small landowners with no restrictions on export.

Ecola runs in a thin strip, sometimes only a quarter-mile wide, along the Pacific Ocean between Cannon Beach and Seaside. Adjoining to the east is Feldenheimer, acting as a buffer between the old-growth of Ecola and the active timberland to the east.

The state divided Feldenheimer and Ecola into 25 plots of land, said Craig Leech, a forester with the department. It looked at the two parks holistically, although they’re still separate properties.

In Ecola, they found 60 trees per acre, with a 60 percent ratio of live crowns to trunks, 90 percent undergrowth coverage and an average tree age of 151 years. In Feldenheimer, there were 300 trees per acre, a 30 percent live crown ratio, only 5 percent understory coverage and an average tree age of 50 years.

“In all the actions we’re taking on Feldenheimer, we’re considering Ecola,” said Duzik, adding that the department would like to reach a self-sustaining forest that doesn’t involve ongoing management.

Leech said that involves some thinning, creating open spaces, planting brush and understory coverage and diversifying the tree species. The plan also calls for creating habitat to promote healthy animal, plant and lichen communities The project is long-term, he said, lasting at least 30 years. People might see active forest management in Feldenheimer beginning November 2016.

Duzik said a trust from the Feldenheimer family still has about $250,000 in it that can be used for restoring the property, including forest management.

The state parks department also hopes to work with several partners to manage the Feldenheimer area, including the North Coast Land Conservancy, Ecola Cree Watershed Council, Oregon Department of Forestry, Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife and the cities of Cannon Beach and Seaside.

“The goal is to generate some revenue from the forest management projects that can then be put back into the stand,” said Duzik, adding that the state will find local contractors for restoration work.

There are educational opportunities, she said, engaging university students and local schools in the restoration work and monitoring.

“I think that’s setting the groundwork for our future park users,” said parks commission member Wendy Veliz.

Parks commission Chairman Jay Graves said he has a house at the north end of Ecola, near Seaside, and uses the trail often. He asked whether the mud the trail is known for is endemic.

Duzik said it is, both from the saturated soils and the large number of people accessing the trail running through Ecola. Another hope is that by making Feldenheimer a destination, pressure can be taken off Ecola.

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