Old-growth trees are closely tied to the history of Central Oregon.
A grove of ponderosa pine trees that today shade Crow’s Feet Commons in Bend’s Drake Park are the same trees that covered the homestead of the city’s founder, Alexander Drake, a century ago.
Along the Huntington Wagon Road Trail between Bend and Redmond, hikers can see markings on juniper trees made by Native Americans, soldiers and frontiersmen. One of the junipers still has bullet holes from when it was used as target practice in the 1880s.
The Oregon Heritage Tree Committee recently approved both groves of trees for state recognition after they were nominated by local historian Nate Pedersen, who serves on the committee.
“Our region has kind of been underrepresented on the committee. I jumped at the chance with the goal in mind to get Central Oregon trees on that list,” Pedersen said. “Central Oregon is a region with rich history, and these trees actually tie into the documented history in our region.”
The A.M. Drake Homestead Ponderosa Pines and the Huntington Wagon Road Junipers joined the “Big Tree,” a large ponderosa pine in La Pine State Park, as the only Central Oregon trees on the list of Oregon Heritage Trees. A total of 71 trees are on the statewide list.
The Oregon Heritage Tree Program is headed by the volunteers on the Oregon Heritage Tree Committee and is under the umbrella of the Oregon Travel Council.
Annie von Domitz, a spokeswoman for the Oregon Travel Council, said anyone in the state is welcome to nominate a heritage tree. Designating heritage trees is purely for educational purposes, she said, and does not give the trees any special protection. Plaques are set up near each heritage tree to explain its historical importance.
The heritage tree committee, made up of volunteer arborists, historians and tree enthusiasts, meets three times a year to review nominations.
“The committee will have very robust conversations about them and vote,” von Domitz said. “It’s pretty hard to get to be a heritage tree. There has to be a direct connection to human history, either throughout a large region or statewide.”
Plans are in the works for a ceremony in July to recognize the two groves in Central Oregon, von Domitz said.
At Drake Park, the recognized grove consists of three ponderosa trees at least three centuries old. Each is about 80 feet high with about a 40-foot circumference and are owned by the Bend Park & Recreation District, which supported the nomination.
The trees were already relatively old when Drake and his wife, Florence, arrived in Central Oregon in 1900 to build their homestead.
Pedersen said it is humbling to think about how those trees have stood throughout the entire development of Bend, from a population of a few dozen people to more than 80,000 people today.
“They have seen this whole city grow beneath them,” Pedersen said. “It’s been all part of our civic lives for 100-plus years.”
On the Huntington Wagon Road Trail, four juniper trees are receiving special recognition. The junipers, about 25 to 33 feet high with about a 90-inch circumference, are on federal land. The Bureau of Land Management helped their nomination with a letter of support.
The 2-mile trail through the juniper trees was originally used by Native Americans. In 1864, J.W. Petit Huntington, superintendent of Indian Affairs in Oregon, marked the trail as a route between The Dalles and Fort Klamath. Over time, the trail was regularly used by soldiers, prospectors, homesteaders and tradesmen. The travelers blazed the trail by marking the juniper trees.
The most notable juniper in the grove is called the “Target Tree.” It is covered in notches and bullet holes from soldiers who camped nearby and used the tree for target practice.
“It’s near a campsite that soldiers used along that section of road,” Pedersen said. “While they were there, they used it for target practice. You can put your finger in an 1800s bullet hole in the tree.”
The Huntington Wagon Road Trail grove is the first set of junipers to be listed as Oregon Heritage Trees.
During a recent visit to the trail, Pedersen noticed other junipers that would be worthy of a heritage tree designation. He plans to keep an eye out for more historic trees across Central Oregon and nominate them to the state list.
“I have a good handful of leads,” Pedersen said. “I hope to keep it going.”
— Reporter: 541-617-7820,