Willamette University Extends Campus to Zena Forest

Willamette's physical footprint has just increased -- by 305 acres. The university purchased land at Zena Forest to establish a research station where faculty and students can conduct field experiments and outdoor labs. The forest, located 15 miles west of Salem, is the largest contiguous block of forestland in the Eola Hills and one of the last remnants of undeveloped land in the area.

"Zena Forest provides opportunities to advance Willamette's core educational purposes by enhancing our teaching, research and practical commitment to sustainability," said Joe Bowersox, director of the Center for Sustainable Communities.

Willamette University Forest at Zena will feature onsite classes and research that allow students a closer look at astronomy, plant ecology, wildlife, hydrology, ecological restoration, sustainable forestry, sustainable agriculture, climate change, geology and GIS mapping.

The property also provides opportunities for service learning about restoration ecology, and students have begun to invest sweat equity by removing non-native, invasive plants. One student volunteer said, "This place already feels like home." Seventeen miles of trails are available for Willamette cross-country teams. A 2,000-square-foot building on the property, with an easement allowing the university to increase its size to 5,500 square feet, could eventually be converted to a state-of-the-art conference and retreat center.

The land has been managed for wildlife habitat and conservation values under its former owner, the Trust for Public Lands, and lies adjacent to a 1,156-acre parcel, managed for sustainable forestry and conservation. It features upland prairie and oak savannah, Douglas fir and ponderosa forest, ash groves, wetlands and riparian areas, and several streams. The land will continue to be managed for conservation values and sustainable forestry.

"Zena Forest is an amazing, inspiring place," said President M. Lee Pelton. "Future generations of Willamette students will probably become artists, foresters, archaeologists and writers because of their experiences at Zena. Local school kids will get to enjoy classes amidst restored prairie and oak savanna. It's truly an investment in Willamette's future as well as that of our region."