Opal Creek

Anyone else turning off the radio and TV when presidential campaign ads or stories come on?  Seems like a waste, considering how much money is spent on campaigning these days, but the content is so empty and repetitive, it isn’t worth watching.

As awful as the process is, I’m having to remind myself that it works, and not always in favor of the people with the biggest checkbooks.   Here’s a template from the not too distant past when Republicans and Democrats, loggers and conservationists, righties and lefties teamed up.

Opal Creek Wilderness Area

The Opal Creek Valley includes 50 waterfalls and the largest contiguous portion of low elevation old growth left in Oregon, a remnant of the forests which once covered the western part of the state.

Starting in the 1840’s, the area was mined for gold, copper, zinc, lead and silver.

It was included in the first Wilderness bill in Congress in 1967, but didn’t make it into the final version.

In 1980, a 6’8″ Bunyan-esque* District Ranger of the Detroit Oregon region, Dave “Chainsaw” Alexander, vowed to “cut Opal Creek.” Soon after, the Forest Service laid boundary markers to clear cut the area, but the sale was halted in 1982, when (future Mayor of Salem) Mike Swaim brought a lawsuit against it.  Opal Creek was included in the 1984 Wilderness bill, then pulled at the last minute by Republican Senator Mark Hatfield.  A 1989 fight to make Opal Creek an Oregon state park spurred the production of an Audubon video, “Rage Over Trees.”

Industry opponents got advertisers to boycott the film, so Ted Turner showed it 6 times on his network, without commercials.

Local activists like  George Atiyeh (nephew of Republican Governor Victor Atiyeh), Michael Donnelly and Jerry Rust worked to keep the issue alive, and were joined by Republicans like Oregon Logger of the Year, Tom Hirons.  As public pressure grew, Mark Hatfield arranged for a group of conservationists to meet with industry representatives and a mediator from Willamette University.  The upshot was a Hatfield-sponsored bill designating Opal Creek a Wilderness area.  It passed in 1996.

Tens of thousands visit every year.  The Opal Creek Forest Center runs education programs, an outdoor school and backpacking trips for kids, and old logging camp cabins are available to the public for rent.

It is spectacular.

If you have stories about political successes, or just want to commiserate about the politics this season, I’d love to hear from you.  

Acknowledgements and resources: Eugene Register Guard Archives, *Michael Donnelly’s 1997 article “Opal Creek Preserved,” David Seideman’s book “Showdown at Opal Creek.”  Photos by me.


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