Several trees were damaged in Downing Research Forest during a late-December windstorm. (Photo by Eric Niemann)

Remember that wicked windstorm during the week between Christmas and New Year’s? It caused some pretty notable damage in the city, including on school district property. 

“The windstorm in December really took a toll on the trees out there in Downing forest right by the middle school,” School Superintendent Susan Halliday told the School Board at its last meeting. “Our facilities staff immediately closed off the area to be able to close off access because there were trees down.”

During the first week of January, a group that included the superintendent, forestry teacher, school facilities personnel and a retired Starker Forests employee and member of the Natural Resources Advisory Board walked the property to discuss needed action. Some trees were precariously standing with others having fallen completely.

“We know that since the easement work on Chapel, it removed the anchor stand of trees nearest to Chapel Drive and a part of that has made the interior setup of the trees become a little bit more vulnerable,” Halliday said.

Downing Research Forest encompasses 10 acres in an area between Chapel Drive and Philomath Middle School. In 1981, former forestry instructor Pat Downing and his students grew Christmas trees to try to raise money for the program. Over the years, it’s been used for educational purposes and was dedicated in Downing’s name in 2012.

Besides serving as an outdoor classroom for students, it’s also home to the high school’s cross-country course.

“The work right now is to make sure we can get someone to be able to come in and help us to clean up the area to ensure the safety,” Halliday said.

Halliday said there will be discussions about the future of Downing forest, including types of trees to plant and recommended distances between trees.

“It gives us an opportunity to take a look at additional learning as students look to replant in that area to think about the kinds of trees and what distance is and what that means in terms of how it’s set up,” Halliday said.

The Highway 20 bridge over Harris Road and the Willamette and Pacific Railroad, which dates back to 1927, received a condition rating of fair. (File photo by Brad Fuqua/Philomath News)

2. Bridge conditions in Benton County

The Oregon Department of Transportation released its annual report on bridge conditions earlier this week. ODOT inspects and monitors bridges throughout the state and ranks them from poor to good condition every year.

The state has more than 2,771 state highway bridges in varying sizes, ages, types and conditions. ODOT says it prioritizes maintaining bridges that are in place to stretch their lifespan — as long as it can be done safely.

There are 44 state highway bridges in Benton County — 33 of those with conditions rated as fair, 10 as good and one as poor. Here is a rundown of those listed in the Philomath, Blodgett, Kings Valley, Wren and Summit area:

• Good condition — Highway 20/34 bridge over Newton Creek (built 2007, 45 feet in length, average daily vehicles 16,420); and Highway 20 bridge over Norton Creek east of Blodgett (1975, 84 feet, 5,898 vehicles).

• Fair condition — Highway 34 bridge over Marys River just south of Highway 20 intersection (1949, 223 feet, 3,166 vehicles); Highway 20 bridge over Marys River at Noon (1954, 170 feet, 8,887 vehicles); Highway 34 bridge at Rock Creek (1926, 120 feet, 2,201 vehicles); Highway 20 bridge over Harris Road and railroad at Wren (1927, 211.7 feet, 6,261 vehicles); Kings Valley Highway bridge over Price Creek (1967, 31 feet, 922 vehicles); Kings Valley Highway bridge over Maxfield Creek (1967, 39 feet, 922 vehicles); Kings Valley Highway bridge over Luckiamute River (1966, 165 feet, 615 vehicles); Highway 20 bridge over Marys River and railroad at Blodgett (1955, 297 feet, 5,898 vehicles); and Summit Highway bridge over Marys River (1957, 57 feet, 419 vehicles).

There were no poor condition ratings of bridges in the immediate area. The one bridge in the county that received a poor rating was the Van Buren Bridge over the Willamette River in Corvallis (1913, 713.4 feet, 9,913 vehicles).

Replacing bridges is very expensive. Consider this statement from ODOT:

“Current funding levels pay on average for only three bridge replacements a year. At this rate, an Oregon bridge will need to stay in service for over 900 years, well beyond the expected service life of 75-100 years.”

Last year, ODOT replaced only one bridge.

The federal Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act provided some funding but ODOT says the amount still falls short of addressing “the significant needs of our aging infrastructure.”

Notably, there is a requirement that each state spend a minimum of 15% of the federal funding to address bridges that are not on the Federal Aid System, like small city- or county-owned bridges.

Says ODOT, “This process allows each state to make measurable progress in reducing the number of smaller bridges in poor condition, but this requirement leaves less money to preserve major bridges in their current condition.”

ODOT said a bright spot in the report relates to efforts to make more bridges around the state earthquake ready.

The large elm tree in front of Philomath Community Library appears to be on track to become the city’s first Heritage Tree. (File photo by Eric Niemann)

3. Heritage Tree program underway

More than a year ago during a City Council meeting, then-Planning Commissioner Giana Bernardini planted the idea of a Heritage Tree program in Philomath. The idea took hold and by the following July, councilors approved a resolution to get the program established.

Then-Councilor Catherine Biscoe immediately suggested that the large elm in front of Philomath Community Library be designated as the first Heritage Tree.

In the months since, a Heritage Tree Selection Committee has been organized to include the three City Council members that sit on the Public Works Committee (Ruth Causey, Matt Lehman, Christopher McMorran), two members of the Tree Board (Bernardini, Graham Seaders) and two additional members of the public.

One of the reasons I’m bringing this up now is that the city is trying to fill those two openings for citizen positions on the committee. For anyone interested, go to the city’s website for more information and to this link for an application.

The City Council plans to make the committee appointments on March 13. The first Heritage Tree Selection Committee meeting has been scheduled for March 30.

(Brad Fuqua is publisher/editor of the Philomath News. He can be reached at

Brad Fuqua has covered the Philomath area since 2014 as the editor of the now-closed Philomath Express and currently as publisher/editor of the Philomath News. He has worked as a professional journalist since 1988 at daily and weekly newspapers in Nebraska, Kansas, North Dakota, Arizona, Montana and Oregon.