Traveling out of Philomath on North 19th and approaching West Hills Road, folks that have lived around these parts for a good number of years probably remember a small barn and a couple of horses running around on pasture property located on the east side of the road.
Andrew Martin, a name that will be familiar to some as the former owner of the nearby Bald Hill Farm, acquired the property — Lupine Meadows — back in 2004 and three years later, sold it outright to Greenbelt Land Trust, a nonprofit conservation organization.
Encompassing 58 acres of upland prairie and wetland habitats and stretching from north of the railroad tracks up to West Hills Road, the property is protected from development or agriculture.
A small group of city councilors, planning commissioners, city employees and a few other guests got an up-close look at the property this past Tuesday through a tour led by Greenbelt Land Trust’s Jessica McDonald and Matt Benotsch.
McDonald, who is the nonprofit organization’s executive director, filled in the group on how Greenbelt worked with the city of Philomath years ago when a lands inventory was done. Located inside the city’s urban growth boundary, Lupine Meadows was identified as a site to be protected. Randy Kugler was city manager at the time.
McDonald read an excerpt from a letter that Kugler wrote to Greenbelt Land Trust in 2003:
“Your efforts are not in conflict with any city objectives. In fact, they may assist in furthering city goals for preservation of critical habitat and wetland areas that are of interest to the city,” Kugler wrote.
“The city conducted a detailed wetland and industrial study … and concluded that this property was a low priority for development due to costs associated with infrastructure extensions and the presence of high-quality wetlands,” he continued. “I would encourage you in your efforts to obtain this property for the various conservation purposes ….”
Current city councilors Jessica Andrade, Catherine Biscoe and Ruth Causey, Mayor Chas Jones, City Manager Chris Workman, City Planner Pat Depa and planning commissioners
Giana Bernardini, Gary Conner and Peggy Yoder were among those listening to McDonald describe the connection that has existed between the trust and the city.
Bernardini arranged for the tour to take place.
McDonald also provided the group with background information on Greenbelt Land Trust, including a brief rundown of its history. Today, the organization protects about 4,000 acres across the Willamette Valley with a service area that includes Benton, Linn, Polk and Marion counties.
Locations such as Lupine Meadows are not among the most well-known properties in the organization’s holdings because it does not provide any recreational opportunities and is closed to the public. Greenbelt Land Trust does lead tours (check the organization’s website for information).
“Most of the properties that we have protected are ones that you might not have visited unless you went on a walk through our outreach program,” McDonald said, adding that such locations don’t have trail systems and were not necessarily protected for recreation, but for habitat, native species, wildlife and so on.
Lupine Meadows is considered to be part of the Bald Hill complex, which is comprised of 1,237 acres of protected greenspace and 16 miles of connected public trails. However, the trail system does not cross West Hills Road to Lupine Meadows.
Benotsch, who serves as Greenbelt Land Trust’s outreach manager, provided details of the various plants and species, which includes the federally endangered Fender’s blue butterfly and the threatened Kincaid’s lupine. The Fender’s blue butterfly lays its eggs exclusively on Kincaid’s lupine, which after hatched become a food source.
“The butterfly doesn’t go anywhere that the plant isn’t,” he said. “This is the host plant … this butterfly has developed a relationship over time with one species.”
Crouching down near a Kincaid’s lupine while providing information to the group, Benotsch paused for a moment.
“I’ve been seeing some small blue butterflies flying around — those could be Fender’s, they’re probably a more common butterfly called silvery blue,” Benotsch said. “Fender’s is actually a sub-species of silvery blues.”
Benotsch was full of all kinds of interesting information on the Fender’s blue butterfly and Kincaid’s lupine. For example, each individual butterfly probably never goes more than 100 meters from the plant it hatched on and the lupine is an incredibly tough plant that can live for more than 125 years.
After the Fender’s and lupine discussion, Benotsch led the group up a deer trail to the top of the hill. Participants took in the scenery and digested more fascinating information. The Nelson’s checkermallow, another threatened species, can be found at Lupine Meadows. The Vesper sparrow, which has been identified as a “species of concern,” is another focal species for the organization.
McDonald’s talk with the group included the story of the late Jeff Mitchell, the longtime Philomath High School teacher who taught students on site at Lupine Meadows as part of his outdoor classroom style of teaching.
“He would bring his students out here as part of their living curriculum … They had a bicycle fleet at the high school and so they all biked out here,” McDonald said. “They really felt a sense of ownership and pride in this site.”
Mitchell and the students completed a variety of projects as part of the classroom experience.
“They did monitoring programs of native endangered plants like the Kincaid’s lupine that we were looking at today,” McDonald said. “They also learned about wetland systems and upland prairie, they did research out here … just kind of a holistic curriculum of biology and botany on the site. It spanned years, they did plantings, they did invasive removal as well.”