Using helicopters to thin the forest at Stub Stewart

10/25/2017

The trees will soon be flying at Stub Stewart State Park and along the Banks-Vernonia State Trail.

We’re using helicopters to thin overgrown areas of the forest this winter, because a crowded forest isn’t healthy. For your safety, we’ll be closing sections of the park and trails from Nov. 1 through the winter. Specific closures are listed below. But first, here are some reasons we’re really excited about this project:

The forest will be so much healthier when we’re done. Our forester selected 550 acres that need thinning — about a third of the park. Most of the trees here are 15 to 35 years old and were initially planted as a tree farm (think: very close together). Tree farms need to be thinned when they’re young, much like your carrot patch. Since that didn’t happen, the trees are spindly and weak. That makes them susceptible to insects and disease, which makes them more likely to fall on something or someone.

When Stub Stewart became a state park in 2007, the priorities for the landscape changed from producing timber to restoring the forest so that it supports diverse plants and wildlife. Thinning is how we’ll reset the future.

We’re using helicopters. Not only will it be cool to see “flying” trees, but the damage to the ground is practically nil. Other than two landing areas at each of end of the park and 2,300 feet of roads to access them, we don’t have to build any infrastructure to support this project. Unlike ground logging, which would have destroyed 10 miles of trails and required us to build more roads and drag trees across fragile landscapes.

Did we already mention we’re using helicopters? The technology in these bad boys is cutting edge. It allows pilots to select and pluck a single tree so that it never touches the ground and does not damage the surrounding trees. We’ll be posting photos and videos of the helicopters in action on our Facebook page, so be sure to follow us.

It’s a win for the park, a win for the contractor and a win for the community. We get a healthier and safer park for about $100,000, the cost to build the short roads and two landing areas. This is a bargain compared to what we’d spend to log by ground, on lots of roads and landing areas, not to mention the cost of the repairs to damaged trails. Plus, ground logging can only be done in good weather, so we’d have to close the park during the most popular time of the year.

The contractor — Nevada-based Whisper Jet Helicopters — will repurpose the trees as lumber, bark mulch or biomass material so that nothing is wasted. And they’ll hire local subcontractors for the job.

Whisper Jet CEO Geoff Hall doesn’t mind that he’ll break even on his costs. He envisions his company saving the public lands in the west from catastrophic fires. We love that Stub Stewart can help lead the way. And we’re excited about the potential to use this less-invasive and ultra-efficient logging method in other state parks where it makes sense.

So what does this mean for those of you who like to camp, mountain bike, ride your horse and play disc golf at the park? In the long-run, your experience won’t change — the views of the forest from the trails and park areas will look similar. But you will be much safer.

In the short term, it will get a little noisy. If you’re at or near the park, it will sound like, you know, a helicopter is flying overhead. But only during weekdays, and only during daylight hours.

We also need to close some areas of the park to keep visitors safe. We’re hoping to wrap up the project by the end of February, with cooperation from Mother Nature.


Trail Closures

Here’s a full closure schedule (subject to weather and flying conditions.) We’ll update this page regularly, so check back before your visit.

November

• All Stub Stewart trails – Mon-Fri

• Hares Canyon Horse Camp – 24/7

• Clayhill Horse Staging Area – 24/7

• Dairy Creek Camp East – 24/7

• Disc Golf Course – Mon-Fri

December

• All Stub Stewart trails – Mon-Fri

• Hares Canyon Horse Camp – 24/7

• Clayhill Horse Staging Area – 24/7

• Dairy Creek Camp East – 24/7

• Disc Golf Course – Mon-Fri

January

• All Stub Stewart trails – 24/7

• Banks-Vernonia Trail – Mon-Fri (Starting Jan. 8)

• Hares Canyon Horse Camp – 24/7

• Clayhill Horse Staging Area – 24/7

• Dairy Creek Camp East and West – 24/7

• Disc Golf Course – 24/7

• Cabin Village – 24/7 (except for Jan. 19-21)

• Hilltop Day-use Area– 24/7

February

• All Stub Stewart trails – Mon-Fri

• Hares Canyon Horse Camp – 24/7

• Clayhill Horse Staging Area – 24/7

• Dairy Creek Camp East – 24/7

• Disc Golf Course – Mon-Fri