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Born of fire, lake a source of fun, profit
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Born of fire, lake a source of fun, profit

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Born of fire, lake a source of fun, profit
Born of fire, lake a source of fun, profit

As lakes go, it's not all that impressive - more of a glorified pond, really. But for generations of mid-valley residents, Peavy Arboretum's Cronemiller Lake has become a popular destination, for all sorts of reasons.

"It's an interesting little place," said Dave Lysne, director of Oregon State University's research forests. Those include the arboretum, just west of Highway 99W between Corvallis and Adair Village.

The 1-acre lake was created in 1937 to serve as an irrigation pond for the Oregon Forest Nursery, where seedlings were planted to restock Coast Range forests devastated by the Tillamook Burn.

The work was done as a Civilian Conservation Corps project by a crew of 30 to 40 World War I and Spanish-American War veterans. Over a six-month span, the workers erected an earthen dam across the mouth of a hollow just uphill from the nursery, near what is today the research forests' office. A small dam on nearby Calloway Creek provides water to the lake, with a floodgate that can be opened or closed as needed to regulate the flow.

At the time, most folks expected the lake to be named after nursery chief Vern McDaniel. But in the end, that honor went to state forester Lynn Cronemiller, who backed McDaniel's choice of location against opposition from OSU faculty.

Cronemiller Lake still provides irrigation for the nursery, now used by OSU's College of Forestry for research on poplars and other hardwood species. Over the years, however, the lake has become much more than just an irrigation source.

In a small outdoor arena near the lake, OSU's Logging Sports Team practices and competes in events ranging from tree-climbing to ax-throwing. The lake itself is used in the birling and limber pole events.

In birling - also known as log-rolling - lumberjacks compete to see who can stay aboard the longest as they spin a floating tree trunk with their booted feet. They look as though they are racing full out - in place - on their precarious track.

The limber pole is a tree trunk stripped of its branches and extending at a slight angle out over the lake, with orange rings painted at intervals on the bark. The winner is the one who gets the farthest without falling off.

"Of course, the log gets smaller as it gets farther out," Lysne said. "Some people run, some people walk, but it's typically a one-way trip."

Cronemiller also has become a favorite with the thousands of recreational users who visit Peavy Arboretum and the adjoining McDonald-Dunn Research Forest each year.

An easy half-mile walk from the arboretum's upper parking lot, the lake is a worthy destination in itself, a little green haven of serenity framed by evergreens, hardwoods and ferns. From a shady split-log bench at the south end or the sunny east bank, visitors can pause to watch ducks gliding across the water or catch a glimpse of the resident kingfisher swooping from a tree.

The lake is also right at the nexus of a surprisingly large number of trails and roads, making it a waystation on longer rambles through the woods for hikers, runners, cyclists, dog-walkers and horseback riders.

Two well-maintained gravel roads meet at the lake, with the 500 road climbing over Vineyard Mountain to Lewisburg Saddle and the 540 looping back to Highway 99 at Adair Village.

The Section 36/Powder House Trail loop runs right along the peaceful western shore and connects to the Discovery and CFIRP trails. A short spur route links the lake to the Calloway Creek/

Intensive Management Trail loop.

It was the trails that drew Jean and Cyril Clarke and their golden retriever, Dudley, on a recent rainy Saturday. The couple moved here from Oklahoma about nine months ago, when Cyril took over as dean of OSU's College of Veterinary Medicine. Since then, they've been exploring the local walking paths with the aid of a guidebook.

"This is such a wonderful place. We've been walking all the trails," said Cyril, sipping hot tea with his wife at the Forestry Club cabin, just downhill from the lake. "We check them off. Today we're checking off all the trails around Peavy Arboretum."

Dudley was more excited about the chance to chase sticks thrown in the lake. Technically, dogs are the only ones allowed to take the plunge - signs warn visitors that Cronemiller is off-limits to both swimming and fishing.

But Lysne acknowledges that the lake's cool green depths have been known to tempt visitors on a hot day.

"On occasion," he admitted, "we have the usual cadre of people skinny-dipping."

Bennett Hall is the special projects editor for Mid-Valley Newspapers.

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