Portions of Stub Stewart State Park will be closed starting Nov. 1 through late winter for a forest thinning project designed to improve forest health at the park, according to the Oregon Parks and Recreation Department (OPRD). A five-mile portion of the Banks- Vernonia State Trail will also be closed the month of January.
OPRD will thin 550 acres -- about a third of the park-- where Douglas firs are growing so densly that they could become hazardous to visitors, buildings and property. OPRD hired Nevada-based Whisper Jet Helicopters to log by helicopter 25 to 40 percent of the trees in the project area. The company will use local subcontractors for the operation.
"Our goal is to continue improving this relatively new park with minimal disruption on the ground," said Dan Quigley, Stub Stewart park manager. "A natural landscape can support a wide range of recreation, something the people of Washington and Columbia counties and the whole region can enjoy."
The areas selected for thinning contain 15- to 35-year-old Douglas firs that were initially planted very close together. Today's best practice would be to thin stands much earlier in their lifecycle. But that never happened, leaving the existing trees susceptible to storm damage and insect and disease infestation, which puts them at a greater risk of falling on property or people.
These stands average 450 trees per acre -- three times the ideal density of 150 trees per acre. The helicopters are equipped with technology that allows the pilot to select, cut and extract one tree at a time from above. The contractor will send larger logs to a local mill to be turned into lumber; the rest will be chipped for landscaping mulch or turned into biomass material.
Because forest projects in state parks are driven by forest health, rather than revenue, this project is expected to break even at best. The $1.2 million in expected gross revenue will be used to create minimal roads and helicopter landing areas, and fund the materials and labor needed to harvest by helicopter.
"Helicopter logging is ideal for this park," said Nick Morris, forester with OPRD. "Extracting trees from above causes minimal on-the-ground damage compared to traditional logging methods."
Geoff Hall, CEO of Whisper Jet Helicopters, developed specialized equipment for large scale thinning projects, hopes to expand the company's niche from removing trees near power lines to thinning dense swaths of public land.
"We see a huge need for thinning crowded forests, both for disease and fire prevention," said Hall, a pilot with 12 years of helicopter logging experience. "Helicopter logging is the most effective and nonintrusive method to restore the health of our forests. We're looking forward to getting our start at Stub Stewart."
Areas selected for thinning are located around the campgrounds, disc golf course and mountain bike trails, as well as along the five miles of the 21-mile Banks-Vernonia State Trail that crosses through the park.
The Banks-Vernonia Trail between the Buxton and Tophill Trailheads will be open weekends only in January. It will remain open during the other project months.
The most popular areas of Stub Stewart , including the campgrounds, cabins, Hilltop Day-use Area, trails and disc golf course, will be closed completely in January. Park areas will be closed at times during the other project months. Closures are subject to change based on weather and flying conditions. Watch for closure signs on the ground and get the latest closure information at www.oregonstateparks.org.
Helicopters will operate during daylight hours Monday through Friday. Nearby residents should expect some noise during that time.
"Our goal is to cause as little disturbance as possible for the residents whose homes border the park and for visitors who enjoy using the trail and the park in winter," Morris said.