SALEM — If you’re planning a visit to Salem, beware of the owls.

This is not a joke. In fact, it’s created a minor crisis in the intricately planned schedule of State Rep. Knute Buehler, who has found his jogging routine interrupted.

Owls, you see, can be ferociously protective of their nesting areas. One particular barred owl, resident of an oak grove at Bush’s Pasture Park on Salem’s south side, has taken it upon itself to dissuade morning visitors from venturing anywhere near its domicile, even when the intruders remain on designated trails.

A sign designed for MSNBC's "Rachel Maddow Show" warns visitors to Bush's Pasture Park in south Salem to beware of owls. As of last week, four park joggers had been attacked by a barred owl nicknamed "Owlcapone" that lives in an oak grove in the park.

John Gottberg Anderson / For The Bulletin

Four joggers, and counting, were attacked in February when strong talons followed an almost silent rush of feathers. Injuries were minor — light bumps, scalp scratches and theft of favorite hats — but it was enough to prompt Salem’s municipal government to post notices to warn park pedestrians of avian aggressiveness.

“I don’t know much about Salem yet,” said Buehler, who is barely a month into his first term as a state representative, “but I can tell you about the owls.”

New signs, featuring the silhouette of an owl swooping down upon a running stick figure, were inspired by a Feb. 5 segment of “The Rachel Maddow Show” on MSNBC. Salem Parks got permission to use the signs, which were created by designers for the television network.

Readers of Salem’s Statesman Journal newspaper have dubbed the bird “Owlcapone.”

According to John Kleeman, operations supervisor for Salem Parks, the city doesn’t want to capture or scare the bird away.

“We do what we can to help nature in the parks,” Kleeman told the Statesman Journal in a Feb. 12 story. “We love to celebrate nature when it intersects with the urban community.”

Learning the city

As a freshman legislator, Buehler is still learning about Salem.

The Bend Republican is not quite chained to the State Capitol, but at times it must seem so.

Sworn in Jan. 11, he began five months of legislative session work Feb. 2 — and he winds up taking most of his breakfasts and lunches in the House Lounge, whose patronage is limited to other representatives.

“It’s one of my few sanctuaries,” Buehler told me when I visited him Feb. 18 and 19. “Not even our staff can go in there. It’s the one place where I can really talk with my colleagues in the Legislature.”

State Rep. Knute Buehler, R-Bend, finds a rare moment of relaxation with a cup of coffee at Ike Box, a cafe near the State Capitol. His schedule is so busy, "There is not enough time for me to think and contemplate."

John Gottberg Anderson / For The Bulletin

My visit coincided with the inauguration of Gov. Kate Brown. But once the 25-minute ceremony was over, it was business as usual in Salem. Buehler returned to a calendar that has him serving on three legislative committees and meeting privately with visitors — about 400 in his first two weeks in office, he estimated.

“There is not enough time for me to think and contemplate,” he told me over coffee and a bagel at Ike Box, a coffee shop near the Capitol campus. “That’s one of the biggest inhibitors to creativity. Jogging is so important to my spiritual and mental health.”

The only other time he has to ruminate, he said, is during the drive between Bend and Salem, which he makes twice a week without fail.

“Hopefully, in the spring, I’ll have a chance to explore Salem,” he said. Meanwhile, he depends upon his chief of staff, Jordan Conger, and Conger’s wife, Holly, Buehler’s administrative assistant, to make recommendations.

“Salem has good restaurants, nice parks, friendly people, and I can walk to work from my apartment,” Buehler said. “West Salem, just across the (Willamette River), is beautiful. I hear there’s a nice run along the river, and there are certainly nice wineries in the hills.”

Sights of Salem

For the hundreds — and by the end of session, it will be thousands — of Central Oregonians who visit the offices of Buehler and the region’s other state legislators this year, there’s reason to get acquainted with the charms of Salem beyond the Capitol steps.

Within a half hour’s drive of the capital are such sterling attractions as Silver Falls State Park, the Oregon Gardens, wineries famous for their pinot noir production and the hugely popular Woodburn Outlet Malls for diehard shoppers.

But in the city itself, there’s plenty more to see and do, beginning with the State Capitol itself.

The Oregon State Capitol was built in 1938 by the Works Progress Administration in the waning years of the Great Depression. Its interior walls are covered with murals that depict working-class Oregonians, and its dome is crowned with a gold-plated sculpture of a pioneer.

John Gottberg Anderson / For The Bulletin

Built in 1938 by the Works Progress Administration in the waning years of the Great Depression (the previous capitol burned to the ground), this unique building has a wedding-cake appeal. The gold-plated sculpture of a pioneer rises above its cylindrical marble dome, and interior walls are covered with murals depicting working-class Oregonians.

The Capitol grounds feature a large number of classical sculptures and monuments. Newest is the state’s official World War II Memorial, at the northwest corner of Willson Park, just west of the Capitol. Built at a cost of $1.2 million and dedicated last June, the memorial bears the names of 3,771 Oregonians who were killed in action.

The Oregon WWII Memorial, built at a cost of $1.2 million, was dedicated last June. Located at the northwest corner of Willson Park, just west of the State Capitol, it bears the names of 3,771 Oregonians who were killed in action during the war, between 1941 and 1945.

John Gottberg Anderson / For The Bulletin

Immediately south of the Capitol is the 61-acre campus of Willamette University. Founded by Methodist missionaries in 1842, it was the first school of higher education in the western United States. Facing the Capitol is the oldest building on campus, Waller Hall, built in 1867 and completely renovated in 1989. Today, Willamette’s student body numbers about 1,750. The university’s Mark O. Hatfield Library, dedicated in 1986, honors its namesake graduate, who was Oregon governor from 1959 to 1967 and a five-term senator from 1967 to 1997.

Willamette University, directly across State Street from the State Capitol, was founded in 1842 as the first school of higher education in the western United States. On its 61-acre campus is the Mark O. Hatfield Library, honoring a graduate who became governor and U.S. senator.

John Gottberg Anderson / For The Bulletin

Just off campus is the school’s Hallie Ford Museum of Art, two blocks from the Capitol. For its size, this is one of the best art museums in the Northwest. Exhibits rotate through every few months. Current presentations feature the cross-cultural pop-art creations of Japanese-American artist Roger Shimomura and turn-of-the-20th-century images by photographer Myra Albert Wiggins. The Carl Hall Gallery offers work by Pacific Northwest artists, historic and contemporary; the Sponenburgh Gallery surveys 4,500 years of art history from four continents.

"Oceanscape," a 1994 sculpture by Salem artist Robert Hess, anchors a contemporary corner of the Carl Hall Gallery at Willamette Universitys Hallie Ford Museum of Art. It is accented by abstract works by Carl Morris and Norma Heyser.

John Gottberg Anderson / For The Bulletin

Heritage sites

It’s fitting that a state capital should have a number of historic sites. None is more worthy of a visit than the Willamette Heritage Center, formerly known as the Mission Mill Museum. It’s a short walk from the Capitol, across 12th Street to the east of Willamette University.

Thomas Lister Kay introduced wool manufacturing to Salem in 1889, establishing a large mill that was driven by turbines on a millrace he diverted from nearby Pringle Creek. The mill continued to run until 1962, and its legacy is carried on today by the Pendleton Woolen Mills, owned and operated by Kay’s descendants.

Exhibits describe Kay’s life and times, focusing on the importance to Oregon’s economy of the manufacturing jobs his mill created. A walking tour takes in the millrace and turbines, the rooms where wool was picked clean of burrs and dyed and the second-chamber, where wool was turned from fleece into fabric through carding, spinning, dressing and weaving. The machinery is still in working order. Adjacent to the mill are four missionary-era houses dating to 1841.

Built in 1883, the Oregon State Hospital has a 147-acre campus facing Center Street in northeast Salem. Its two-year-old Museum of Mental Health displays photos and artifacts from an era that was brutally depicted by novelist Ken Kesey in "One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest."

John Gottberg Anderson / For The Bulletin

Newly established is the Museum of Mental Health at the Oregon State Hospital, made famous, or perhaps infamous, by the Ken Kesey novel and subsequent 1975 movie, “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.”

Photographs and artifacts depict life and treatments at the Oregon Insane Asylum from 1883, when it was built, to the present. You’ll hear the voices of people hwo lived and worked at the hospital, along with examples of archaic medical equipment.

Just south of downtown is the Historic Deepwood Estate, a Queen Anne-style Victorian built in 1894 for a wealthy physician. A quarter-mile nature trail winds through six acres of grounds and a formal English garden, designed by what is thought to be the Northwest’s first female landscape-architecture team, Elizabeth Lord and Edith Schryver. House tours are offered three days a week.

The Historic Deepwood Estate is a Queen Anne-style Victorian home that was built in 1894 for a wealthy physician. Now open for special events and house tours, it is adjoined by a formal English garden designed by the first female landscape architecture team in the Northwest.

John Gottberg Anderson / For The Bulletin

The Bush House Museum and Gardens — anchoring the 100-acre Bush’s Pasture Park — preserves the home of pioneer businessman Asahel Bush II, Salem’s first banker and first publisher. The 1878 Victorian mansion was once considered a marvel of technology: 130 years ago, it had central heating, gas lights and indoor plumbing, with hot and cold running water. The building is today a public art center.

Historic buildings

A highlight of the nine square blocks of downtown Salem’s historic district is the Elsinore Theatre, built in 1926 to resemble Hamlet’s castle. Its stained-glass windows depict various characters from Shakespeare’s plays. Saved from the wrecking ball, like Bend’s Tower Theatre, by a community effort in 1992, the Elsinore is considered the finest extant example of Tudor Gothic theater design in the United States. It is on the National Register of Historic Places.

Also worth a visit is the 1870 Reed Opera House, once the city’s entertainment center. The multiple floors and mazelike corridors today harbor three restaurants and numerous quirky retail shops and galleries, along with a magnificent ballroom still used for special events.

Archive Coffee & Bar tickles the taste buds of tipplers who may enjoy a good cup of coffee earlier in the day, a creative cocktail during the evening hours. The new addition to the Salem scene is in the freshly renovated 1916 McGilchrist Building on Liberty Street.

John Gottberg Anderson / For The Bulletin

Among many other graceful late-19th- and early-20th-century buildings, the 1916 McGilchrist Building is of special note. Only its facade and bones were retained during a total refurbishment that was completed last fall. Today it has luxury apartments upstairs and several popular venues on the ground floor, including a sweets shop, an Italian market and the Archive Coffee & Bar, which serves a light menu and different types of brews depending upon what hour of the day one visits.

Down by the river

Other Oregon cities have rehabilitated their rundown riverfront areas, but perhaps none have done so effectively as Salem — and the city isn’t done. This summer, construction will begin on the Peter Courtney Bridge, named for the Salem resident who is now president of the Oregon State Senate. The 304-foot-long footbridge will span the Willamette Slough to connect Riverfront Park with Minto-Brown Island Park.

The Willamette River flows through the heart of Salem, dividing downtown from West Salem, Marion from Polk counties. This pedestrian bridge connects Riverfront Park with Wallace Marine Park; a new footbridge at the south end of Riverfront Park will begin construction this year.

John Gottberg Anderson / For The Bulletin

Riverfront Park is Salem’s downtown living room. It boasts an amphitheater for free summer concerts, playgrounds, pathways and picnic tables, as well as public art, a carousel, a riverboat and a children’s museum.

At the south end of the park, on the former site of a Boise Cascade pulp mill, is the 25-foot-diameter Eco-Earth Ball. This giant globe was once an “acid ball,” made of stainless steel, coated with asphalt, and used as a pressure vessel in the production of paper. Today it has been covered with tile icons contributed by local artists and art students, to reflect the diversity of life on this planet, on land and on water.

Twenty five feet across, the Eco-Earth Ball is a work of public art intended to reflect the diversity of life on Planet Earth. The giant globe was once an "acid ball" used as a pressure vessel by Boise Cascade in manufacturing paper from wood pulp.

John Gottberg Anderson / For The Bulletin

Salem’s Riverfront Carousel takes children and their parents in circles on a covered, Old World-style merry-go-round. Boasting 44 hand-carved, hand-painted carousel horses and two re-created Oregon Trail wagons, it is centered on an old-time band organ. Artisans can be seen working on-site to carve and paint new horses.

A child enjoys a ride on Salems Riverfront Carousel, a covered, Old World-style merry-go-round. Boasting 44 hand-craved, hand-painted carousel horses and two recreated Oregon Trail wagons, it is centered upon an old-time band organ.

John Gottberg Anderson / For The Bulletin

On the river is the sternwheeler “Willamette Queen.” The twin-paddle, 87-foot-long boat is a scale likeness of the original Mississippi River sternwheelers. Built in Newport in 1990, it welcomes up to 90 people for lunch and dinner cruises and special events.

Families with children love A.C. Gilbert’s Discovery Village. Gilbert was an early-20th-century engineer and inventor who introduced the Erector set to the world’s children.

At any time of year, visitors can see exhibits of the work of adults who still love these childhood toys.

Gilbert’s uncle, Andrew Gilbert, built his Victorian home at the site of this museum, at Water and Marion streets, in 1887, and that house opened as the Gilbert House Children’s Museum in 1989. Then four other historic homes, including the 1860 Parrish House, were moved from other Salem-area locations, and today the five surround the Outdoor Children’s Discovery Center. It includes a climbing wall, a musical marimba deck, a mammoth dig, a three-story slide and an Erector set maze. Workshops are offered in science and art, music and drama.

Eat and sleep

One of Buehler’s favorite lunches, when he can get away from the office, is a good salmon burger. In Salem, he’s found that at the Adam’s Rib Smoke House Co., a barbecue joint that came highly recommended by Jordan Conger.

For dinner, Buehler enjoys the DaVinci Ristorante, an atmospheric Italian steakhouse (with live jazz piano nightly), next to the Elsinore Theatre. We found excellent happy-hour eats at Table FIVE08, formerly La Capitale, at the other end of the same block. And in the middle of this restaurant row is the new Union Barrel Whiskey Bar, already a popular local hangout.

One of Salem's most beloved lunch spots, Wild Pear Restaurant & Catering, reopened last month after a major renovation. Located in a historic downtown block, Wild Pear has a wide-ranging menu featuring a great selection of salads, soups and sandwiches.

John Gottberg Anderson / For The Bulletin

When Buehler finds time to get away with friends, I would urge him to catch lunch at Wild Pear, a historic venue recently reopened in Salem’s historic district. The wide-ranging menu has a great selection of salads, soups and sandwiches. I’m also impressed by Amadeus, which calls itself “a fork to mouth restaurant”; and on the south side of the city, Gilgamesh Brewing, which could fit right in beside Bend’s slew of brewpubs.

Midday diners enjoy craft beers with their lunches at Gilgamesh Brewing, The Campus, in southeast Salem. Although Salem has only four microbreweries, no match for Central Oregon, Gilgamesh brews are available at several locations in Bend.

John Gottberg Anderson / For The Bulletin

There’s really only one place to stay in the heart of the action in Salem. The Grand Hotel in Salem opened in 2005 as a convention hotel, with 193 upscale rooms. Its adjoining restaurant and Lounge, Bentley’s Grill, has an outstanding wine list to accompany a broad menu.

The city has a handful of nearby bed-and-breakfast inns and a large number of franchise motels close by Interstate 5 exits, about 3 miles from the Capitol. I’m always pleased to stay at the Red Lion Hotel, which has its own restaurant-lounge and fine amenities.

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