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Cottonwood, fir trees that represent once-prevalent timber rafting trade will be named state heritage trees

COURTESY PHOTO: CITY OF WILSONVILLE - Two scarred trees located in Memorial Park and along the Willamette River will receive state heritage tree distinction.

A notable component of Oregon and the Willamette River's history will be memorialized in Wilsonville.

Led by Wilsonville Councilor Charlotte Lehan, the Oregon Travel Information Commission and the City of Wilsonville will host an event to designate a cottonwood tree and a fir tree located along the Willamette River in Memorial Park as official state heritage trees at 2 p.m. Friday, April 26. The event will begin at the Memorial Park River Shelter for the ceremony before attendees will meander toward the two trees lined along the river in the park.

The scars embedded in the trees represent the log rafting trade that was pervasive along the Willamette River throughout much of the 20th century. Back then, tugboat owners would navigate rafts filled with timber toward the Willamette Falls Locks and to the mills that lined the river. The scars were formed when tugboats were tied to trees as a means of storage during the trips.

If you go

What: State heritage tree dedication

When: 2 p.m. Friday, April 26

Where: River Shelter in Memorial Park

"I think it's an important piece of Oregon history and the era of log rafting. It disappeared in the 1980s, so if you're old enough to remember before the 1980s around here, you're very familiar with log rafts parked up and down the Willamette," Lehan said. "If you're younger than that, it doesn't make sense to people. It's an important piece of history fading away from memory, and we want to be able to discuss it and get the people who are actually a part of it to give their perspective about it."

Joe Bernert, whose family owned a river towing company for many decades, will discuss the log rafting trade at the event. The Bernert family's 1937 Rainbow tugboat, which Joe said was one of the last remaining tugboats in the upper Willamette River, will be officially retired at the event.

Lehan, for her part, will provide a historic overview of the cable trees. She also hopes to invite landowners who charged tugboaters a fee for the use of trees on their property to speak at the event. Lehan found an old lease that provided one tug boat owner access to 1,300 feet of river frontage storage space for $52.

Lehan is also working to get an owner of a logging company to give a presentation at the event.

She said the soon-to-be distinguished trees, which will be the second and third trees in Wilsonville to become official state heritage trees, are more representative of the state's history than Wilsonville's history, but that "it is an honor" for the phenomenon of tree rafting to be preserved in Wilsonville.

"It's an important part of Wilsonville's history, but it is the state of Oregon's history," Lehan said. "While there may be many cable bank trees up and down the Willamette still standing, the only ones that are state heritage trees are these two. They are representative of the whole class of trees."

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