An extraordinary treasure

Mount Pisgah Arboretum is more than just a stroll through nature

A pathway through an oak savanna is just one of the many beautiful trails through the arboretum.

Credit: Deb Allen
A pathway through an oak savanna is just one of the many beautiful trails through the arboretum.

An extraordinary treasure set in the heart of Lane County, the Mount Pisgah Arboretum provides a rich experience sure to nourish and awaken nature-lovers of all ages.

Located at 34901 Frank Parrish Road (off Seavey Loop Road), the arboretum rests within the larger Lane County Park, the Howard Buford Recreation Area, between the Coast Fork of the Willamette River and the slopes of Mount Pisgah.

“Here at Mount Pisgah, within the arboretum’s 209 acres, you can actually find all of the major ecosystems of the southern Willamette Valley,” says Executive Director Brad van Appel.

The arboretum showcases these diverse habitats, much in the way the first settlers would have found the valley. Loop walks, ranging in distance from less than a half mile to 1½ miles, upon well-maintained trails of gravel or bark wind through various ecosystems, including river meadow, riparian forest, oak savanna, wet forests, a water garden, and Douglas-fir and incense cedar forests. Numerous memorial benches are set in pristine locations along the way.

Yet, Mount Pisgah Arboretum offers much more than simply a stroll through nature, both now and in the future. Exciting plans are in the works for developing its interpretive experience.

Site Manager Tom LoCasio grew up enjoying New York City’s Museum of Natural History.

“Museums are great places, but they’re very static,” he says. “So the challenge is how to get people more into the exhibit itself.”

Thus, the arboretum staff has been exploring innovative interpretive programs, ways to engage people beyond reading information on signs.

“Signs just don’t engage people,” says van Appel. “We want people to engage all their senses.”

Imagine being able to descend to a gopher’s-eye view of a grassy meadow (along with the bugs, dirt and grass) or ascend to a bird’s-eye view from the canopy of the towering Douglas-fir. These types of experiences are brewing in the visionaries of the arboretum.

Currently, the first of what they hope to be many “nodes of interactive interpretation” is underway – a viewing shelter in the wetlands. This naturally constructed blind will provide visitors the opportunity to more closely observe wildlife species that are therefore less aware of their presence.

Each year, 3,000 grade-school students hike the arboretum’s trails with a trained nature guide and participate in environmental education activities. Walks and workshops changing with the seasons also are offered to the public. The Wildflower Festival in May and Mushroom Festival in October have grown into popular community traditions for more than three decades.

Recently voted as one of the top wedding venues in Lane County by the Register Guard, the arboretum’s 3,000-square-foot White Oak Pavilion with large sliding doors on all sides is available to rent throughout the year.

“It can be pouring rain, but you can have your event and with all the doors open you can still feel like you’re totally outside,” says Peg Douthit-Jackson, education and events coordinator.

With only one full-time site manager and a few part-time staff, the success of this non-profit entity depends critically on its volunteers.

“Volunteerism is a huge part of what the arboretum is all about and when we define what is Lane County, it’s neat that we can have facilities like this where people actually come together and share their experiences and knowledge as a collective for the common good,” says LoCasio.

Year by year, the arboretum attracts hundreds of local volunteers who believe this natural wonder is worth investing in to preserve for current and future generations.

“Only about two percent of the oak savanna that existed in Oregon 150 years ago is still here; 98 percent is gone,” says van Appel. “So habitats need to be understood and protected. And this is the best place you can find to do it.”

The Mount Pisgah area hosts the largest remaining concentration of oak savanna left in public ownership in the west.

“In an ever-changing world where natural habitats are disappearing at an alarming rate, there is a pressing need to understand and appreciate our own native environment,” says van Appel. “Mount Pisgah Arboretum has a vision and a plan to become the premiere destination for all who seek a deeper understanding of southern Willamette Valley ecosystems. For 40-plus years, the arboretum has enriched lives and community as one of the valley’s leaders in outdoor education. Now we’re poised to develop a one-of-a-kind interpretation program that will offer visitors innovative new ways to engage with the natural world. Realizing this new vision will require a great deal of community support.”

Much more information can be found on their website:

For information regarding ways to volunteer, special projects, as well as current or potential memorial funding opportunities, please visit the website or email Tom LoCasio at


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