March 8th, 2007 5:33 pm | by Kyle Cassidy News | Posted In: CLEAN UP, CLEAN UP

Opal Creek Strikes Gold

Eureka! In 1859, Oregon miners struck gold in what is now the Opal Creek wilderness in the Willamette National Forest one hour east of Salem.

Now nearly 150 years later, the Opal Creek Ancient Forest Center is gaining renewed attention from Audubon Magazine, which featured them in a cover story about a spring “phib-freaks” trek through the wilderness' old-growth forest and watershed in search of curious amphibians.

Opal Creek's 35,000 acres of protected wilderness make up one of the Pacific Northwest's last uncut old-growth forests. Visitors can view towering Douglas firs, western hemlocks, red cedars and bubbling waterfalls that probably escaped the attention of burly gold miners in 1859. The area is also rich with wildlife, being home to as many as 15 different species of salamanders and frogs as well as bobcats, river otters, silver-haired bats and endangered Northern spotted owls.

Tom Atiyeh, interim executive director of the Opal Creek Ancient Forest Center, has a special relationship with the area. His grandfather was “Grandpa” James Hewitt who established the mining camp at Jawbone Flats in the Opal Creek wilderness in 1930. And throughout his childhood Atiyeh and his cousins would spend their summers in the camp.

In the late 1960's Atiyeh became concerned about the area and began living there year-round, launching a campaign to designate the entire watershed a wilderness area.

He got some help in the late 1980s when environmentalists began protesting to protect the area, giving America its first sustained tree-sittings at nearby North Roaring Devil Ridge and suffering more than 250 arrests for civil disobedience.

In October, 1996 Atiyeh and the environmentalists won federal protection, with 20,827 acres established as Opal Creek wilderness area; 13,538 acres for an Opal Creek scenic recreation area; and 3,066 acres for Elkhorn Creek in one of Oregon Republican Mark Hatfield's final acts as a U.S. senator.


The Opal Creek Ancient Forest Center is a non-profit organization that maintains and stewards the natural riches of Jawbone Flats. Their programming season runs from April into November and organizes multiple workshops and cabin rental opportunities.
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