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Willamette University at Zena: Our living laboratory

Our 305-acre Zena property is used by many faculty, students and staff in academic courses, for faculty- and student-led research projects, club activities, and for restorative recreation.

Spanning 305 acres, Zena Forest represents a vital ecological and historical treasure, nestled in the Eola Hills west of Salem. It is the largest remaining continuous stretch of forest in the area. The landscape is diverse, featuring oak and mixed woodlands, riparian zones, grasslands, wetlands, and freshwater habitats, along with forest plantations.

Mission and Objectives of Zena

Zena Forest is not only unique but a pivotal part of Willamette University’s commitment to environmental stewardship and education. Our approach to managing this valuable resource is guided by several core objectives:

  • Conservation and Restoration: We aim to conserve, restore, and enhance Zena's natural resources and ecosystems. Our strategy is rooted in adaptive ecosystem management, which we implement in collaboration with various partners.
  • Educational Excellence and Sustainability: Zena Forest serves as a dynamic educational tool that supports Willamette University’s broader sustainability goals. Through hands-on learning opportunities, we foster a deeper understanding and commitment to environmental stewardship among our students and faculty.

History of Zena

In 2008, Willamette University acquired 305 acres of Zena Forest from the Trust for Public Lands, cementing it as a protected area through a conservation easement. This easement prevents developmental changes and promotes sustainable forestry aligned with conservation principles. Before Willamette's stewardship, the land was managed according to German scientific forestry principles, emphasizing selective cutting and uneven-age management, as part of a larger 1,640-acre Zena Forest.

  • Zena Book: Finding a Sense of Place

    Book Cover: Finding a Sense of PlaceStudents in the "Environmental History of Zena" course at Willamette University authored a groundbreaking narrative in 2012, detailing the extensive history of the Zena Forest area. Their work, based on meticulous research, spans from the Pleistocene era to modern times, and focuses on the evolving relationship between humans and the landscape. The resulting publication, divided into sections that explore geological beginnings, cultural transformations, legal frameworks, and conservation efforts, offers fourteen insightful stories about the land’s history.

    • Section One explores Zena's geological origins and the Kalapuyan peoples' deep connection to the land.
    • Section Two delves into how Euro-American settlers' agricultural practices and ideologies shaped the landscape.
    • Section Three examines legal narratives and the ideological battles over land use in the 20th century.
    • Section Four discusses conservation efforts and the shift towards sustainable land management since the late 20th century.

    This comprehensive book is a must-read for anyone interested in the interplay between culture and nature at Zena. It is available for purchase at the Willamette University Bookstore and on Amazon.

Zena Access Policies and Guidelines

For any questions, please contact the Zena administrator at

  • Access for Staff and Faculty

    Staff and faculty involved in ongoing maintenance or active projects at Zena may visit the property alone.

  • Student Access

    Students may visit Zena alone to work on projects with faculty and staff approval. Approval can be obtained by completing the Zena Visit Request Form and receiving confirmation from the university.

  • General Visitation Guidelines

    Ready to visit? Submit your Zena Visit Request Form.

    • Zena is located approximately ten miles northwest of campus and is accessible from sunrise to sunset.
    • All visits must be scheduled in advance using the Zena Visit Request Form. Please submit requests at least 48 hours before your visit, and by Thursday for weekend visits.
    • Upon approval, trip leaders must pick up a main gate key from the Service Center, located in the University Services Building, open Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.
    • Designated trip leaders must ensure all group members comply with Zena policies. Leaders are typically current faculty, staff, or students. Visits may include alumni and guests if pre-arranged.
    • For safety, solo visits or visits where students are distant from the group are discouraged. If approved, carrying a SPOT GPS unit may be required.
  • While at Zena
    • Recreational use is encouraged but may be secondary to academic and land management activities.
    • Follow signage for hiking and stay on designated trails.
    • Cell phone service may be unreliable; prepare accordingly.
    • A covered area and basic facilities like water and a port-a-potty are available near the main entrance. Check the university website for the current WiFi password.
    • Vehicles must remain parked inside the main gate. Parking in front of gates or along Zena Road is prohibited.
    • Ensure the gate is locked after all participants have arrived and upon concluding your visit.
  • Emergency Procedures
    • In an emergency, call 911 or Campus Safety at 503-370-6911.
    • Describe your location using the map provided with the gate key. This map is also available at the main entrance for emergency responders.
  • Prohibited Activities
    • Smoking and bringing dogs are not allowed on the property.
    • All trash and materials must be packed out after your visit.
  • Key Return
    • Return keys promptly after use.
    • Contact Campus Safety for key returns outside of normal Service Center hours.
Willamette University

Willamette University Sustainability Institute

900 State Street
Salem Oregon 97301 U.S.A.