Managing Oregon State’s research forests

The College of Forestry operates eight forests—a total of 15,000 acres—that are collectively known as the OSU Research Forests. Oregon State University and the Corvallis community are fortunate enough to have access to 11,500 acres of research forests—the McDonald-Dunn Forest—located just 15 minutes from campus. The McDonald-Dunn (Mac-Dunn) Forest provides opportunities for research, recreation, and outdoor learning. The forest experienced an estimated 145,000 visits in 2015, and received over 4,500 hours in volunteer contributions.

The OSU Research Forest staff work hard to maintain the 26 miles of system trails in the Mac-Dunn. In an effort to enhance visitor enjoyment and safety, staff and volunteers prevent erosion, clear downed trees, and keep the vegetation from overgrowing on the trails. In addition, forest staff are applying for grants to provide new trails and recreation opportunities in the forest. One person responsible for this work is Matt McPharlin, the Recreation Field and Volunteer Coordinator for the Research Forests. Matt’s responsibilities include managing student workers, coordinating volunteers, and leading volunteer work parties.

He is also quite busy designing and building new forest trails.

Matt explains that the McDonald-Dunn Forest “is a real gem of a forest.” It is a backyard forest for the community of Corvallis, and the people who visit have a respect and a bond with the forest. Matt’s goal is to help foster that respect and bond with the forest by working with community members to develop a sense of stewardship for the land through volunteering and by inviting community members to grow their involvement with the forest. Currently, Matt is overseeing a project to support the local mountain biking community by building the first primary-use trail that will provide a unique experience for mountain bikers without damaging the natural resources or impacting research.

Before beginning his job with the OSU Research Forests, Matt coordinated with the Bureau of Land Management and other federal agencies to maintain and develop trails for local mountain bike clubs in California and Oakridge, Oregon. Matt has been a chair member on over three different International Mountain Biking Association chapters, and has helped to gain more public access for mountain bikes and other recreationalists alike. Matt says that this work helps increase interest and passion around bettering the trails and the communities they represent.

A related issue that Matt faces is the creation and use of unauthorized trails on the forest. These unauthorized trails are put in by recreationists seeking experiences that are not currently provided for on the system of official trails. Unfortunately, unauthorized trails can result in damage to research plots, teaching sites, and cultural and natural resources. One of the challenges Matt faces is determining how to spread the message about the damage these unauthorized trails can create.

By volunteering with the OSU Research Forests, you can help Matt mitigate the effects of illegal trails, foster stewardship, create new sustainable trails, educate the community, and much more. Volunteer parties take place once a month.