Ah, autumn in Corvallis. Consider some of these tell-tale signs that the seasons have changed:

• Streets that were blissfully empty during the summer months now are crowded with vehicles, many of them bearing out-of-state license plates, and many of them being operated by drivers who seem, shall we say, uncertain about where exactly they're going.

• There's a sudden upsurge in the amount of beer cans and broken glass scattered along our downtown sidewalks.

• Hot-air balloons make sudden and unexpected landings in the middle of residential neighborhoods. (See our story on this phenomenon on today's page one.)

It's a sure thing: Oregon State University is just about to begin its fall term, and so another chapter of our community's love-hate relationship with the university and its 20,000-plus students has commenced.

It's mostly a love story, to be certain. OSU and its students are essential parts of the fabric of Corvallis - a point that was underlined again on Monday, when the university held its annual briefing about its impact in the city and across the state.

Corvallis Mayor Charles Tomlinson put it best at that briefing when he noted that the partnership between OSU and the city is "crucial to the success of our community."

And OSU's economic impact to Corvallis is huge: Sherman Bloomer, the dean of OSU's College of Science, pointed Monday to just one example: The record $252 million that the university attracted in research grants during the 2008-09 school year. That's money, as Bloomer noted, that supports professors and students at OSU.

Bloomer also noted the start-up companies that have been based on OSU research. As we struggle to reshape our economy, that's work that results in new jobs for Benton County.

It's not all sweetness and light. As is the case with any university town, there always is tension between "town and gown," and we get that here as well, in matters small and large. We don't mean to minimize those conflicts, but some of them are common to every university town.

What we like most about this time of year is the burst of energy that arrives in Corvallis along with the wave of students. By and large, we find that energy invigorating - even if it sometimes gets expressed in wacky ways. So watch out for that traffic. And keep an eye on the skies. Students are back in town.

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