Growing trees means different things to different people.
For a big timber company, it might all boil down to dollars and cents.
For Don Oakes, it’s about family as much as revenue.
Oakes, 83, is the reigning patriarch of a multigenerational tribe that owns close to 1,000 acres of timber property, primarily in the Coast Range a few miles west of Monroe in south Benton County (there are some outlying parcels near Alsea and in northern Lane County).
The family’s connection to the land dates back to 1883, when Oakes’ great-grandfather homesteaded here. The house he built is long gone, but the place where it once stood still serves as a gathering place for family and friends.
In a clearing surrounded by extensive stands of mature Douglas fir is a wooden building that houses a well-equipped kitchen. The high, peaked roof extends out over a concrete slab where tables and chairs can be set up, and just beyond is a covered picnic shelter with a 36-foot table made from a single log milled by Hull-Oakes Lumber in Dawson (a company in which Oakes’ great-uncle was once a partner).
There’s also an outdoor fire pit and some children’s playground equipment, walking paths that wind among the trees, and a small pond that’s just right for a dip on a hot day.
Every year on Labor Day weekend, family members from as far away as Pennsylvania come together here for a big group campout. The site has also been used for weddings and other special events.
“It’s been in the family forever,” Oakes said during a recent tour of the property.
In his great-grandfather’s day, he said, these hills were dotted with oak trees, many of which he cleared for agriculture.
“He raised oats,” Oakes said. “This was all farm ground.”
Today the land produces clear-grained fir timber. Oakes, a former logging superintendent for Hull-Oakes Lumber, is retired now, but he keeps busy managing the family’s timber holdings.
But he doesn’t have to do it all himself — he has plenty of help from younger family members.
In 1999, Oakes and his wife, Donna, formed a limited liability company and extended ownership of the property to their six children. Today, four generations have a stake in the operation.
Along with Don Oakes, one of the most actively involved family members in recent years was his daughter Marsha Carr.
After selling her Corvallis florist shop (Penguin Flowers), she threw herself into the family timber enterprise. In addition to taking a hand in logging operations, Carr updated the management plan, became active in the Benton County Small Woodlands Association, followed her father’s lead by taking the master woodland manager course from the Oregon State University Extension Service and took the lead herself in getting the family property certified for sustainability by the American Tree Farm System.
Carr died last summer, but her hard work did not go unrecognized. In October, the state chapter of the American Tree Farm System named the Oakes family Oregon’s Outstanding Tree Farmers of the Year for 2018.
Now her son Dan Carr is following in her footsteps. He has a full-time job as a diesel mechanic for TEC Equipment of Coburg, but he spends much of his free time working in the family’s timber tracts.
“I’m doing a precommercial thinning job on weekends,” he said. “Everybody in the family is involved in it one way or another — if they want to be.”
That includes his 14-year-old daughter, Kayla.
“I helped my grandmother before she got sick — set chokers and measure logs and stuff,” she said.
More recently she’s taken an interest in the environmental aspects of the family tree farm, particularly the pond. Built as a reservoir for firefighting purposes, it also serves as a swimming hole and a place to paddle a small boat.
But Kayla got to wondering if the pond could also be good for wildlife. A phone call to Oregon State University resulted in a visit from a biologist, who told her the pond would make fine habitat for fish and other aquatic creatures.
The family placed a log in the pond and temporarily drained it so Kayla could plant native vegetation on the bottom and around the edges. Now she’s hoping to introduce Oregon chub and other fish species to join the frogs and newts that already live there.
“We might as well (manage the property) in a way that benefits the wildlife up here, and I love animals,” she said.
Darrell Oakes — Don and Donna’s son, Marsha’s brother and Dan’s uncle — is another family member who takes an active role on the land. Employed as an engineer at Precision Measurements and Instruments Corp. in Corvallis, he gets involved in logging operations and management decisions on the property. Along with Dan Carr, he’s planning to take the master woodland manager course.
Like his father, Darrell Oakes enjoys working on the family timber property and appreciates the income and recreational opportunities it provides — and he wants to make sure the family can count on both for many years to come.
He’s heartened by Kayla’s involvement, and he hopes other members of the family’s youngest generation will take a similar interest. And in the meantime, he’s trying to make sure the timber is managed for sustainable returns.
“In three or four generations, those kids are going to need something to log,” he said. “We’re trying to keep this thing going.”