The Opal Creek Ancient Forest Center is a not-for-profit educational organization situated within a 35,000-acre forest known as the Opal Creek Wilderness and Scenic Recreation Area, on Cascade Mountain’s west slope, 1 hour east of Oregon and around 2 hours from Portland.
Maintaining and stewarding the ancient mining town of Jawbone Flats, the center’s roots span back to 1989, when the Friends of Opal Creek began efforts to protect the Opal Creek watershed ecosystems. The Opal Creek forest itself has evidence of Native American inhabitants from around 2,000 years ago, with lithic scatter and points suggesting this timeline. With such rich history and ecological significance, the center was created by the Friends of Opal Creek to have as a base from which to secure the ongoing protection of the watershed by spreading public awareness of its cultural and natural resources, animal and plant diversity, ecological interest, and scenic beauty.
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Many of the buildings of the Opal Creek Ancient Forest Center date back to the 1930s, with their upkeep supported by individual donors and local foundations. The area is operated under a special USFS permit with the Willamette and Mountain Hood National Forests.Cabins that may be used by hikers and those undertaking certain programs and workshops can be found 3 miles inside the Opal Creek forest by walking alongside the Santiam River. Equipped with water heaters, electricity, and running water and warmed by either baseboard heaters or wood stoves, the cabins also feature beds in addition to such basic kitchen appliances as stove tops and refrigerators as well as cookware and utensils.
There is an onsite kitchen for staff and visitors, offering mostly vegetarian meals. Providing home-cooked food from organic and non-GMO producers, farmers, and retailers where possible, the dishes ranges from salads and dressings to pastries and bread. Additional dietary requirements can be catered for when making a reservation, which must be made 2 weeks before arrival.
Hiking, one of the best ways to see the temperate rainforest of Opal Creek, sees 5,000-foot peaks and elevation gains of around 2,200 feet. The average yearly rainfall is approximately 90 inches, with the summer months of July, August, and September experiencing the driest weather per year. Visitors usually park at the Opal Creek trailhead, and those who do will require a Forest Service parking permit. There are a number of hikes from various trailheads, including the Opal Creek and Elk Lake trails.
Those exploring the local area will see many examples of ecological interest. Visitors will encounter old and dead trees as well as yew trees, shrubs, wildflowers, ferns, mosses, and bryophytes. A large array of fungi can be seen as can lichen, while mammals such as bobcats, flying squirrels, and chipmunks also abound. Birds that frequent the area are both migratory and resident. Carpenter ants and other insects can be found on the trees and among the undergrowth alongside toads, frogs, and salamanders.
Located in the center of the Opal Creek wilderness is a solar-powered classroom and laboratory space. Complete with projector, microscopes, and educational resources, this space is used for educational programs and workshops. Opal Creek merchandise can be found in the Company Store building. Used as a fuel depot in the 1950s, the store is situated on the main trail and sells products such as canvas tote bags, apparel, bandanas, and postcards.
Ongoing programs and education
The Opal Creek Ancient Forest Center offers a range of workshops to suit all ages, including the flagship program Opal Creek Expeditions. Unique to the center, this program sees summer backpacking trips for individuals aged 10 to 18 to learn observational science and travel skills within the forest environment. Further programs for children include the Basecamp and Junior Basecamp programs for 8 to 12-year-olds. Adult workshops are taught by local experts during spring and fall and the topics vary seasonally. Family workshops offer a shared stay in cabins and involve ecological exploration in addition to arts and crafts.
In terms of education, the center partners with the National Outdoor Leadership School’s Medicine Institute to offer a handful of wilderness medicine courses designed to prepare and train medical and outdoor professionals in emergency situations where communications and resources are in limited supply.
721 NW 9th Ave, Portland, OR 97209, Phone: 503-892-2782