>From The Oregonian, Jan.19, 2003, p B1 (Metro)
Forest center branching out
The renamed Forest Discovery Center has a modern mission: to take a
balanced look at all the issues of the forests
By MICHAEL MILSTEIN, The Oregonian
A talking Douglas fir has stood as the centerpiece of Portland's
World Forestry Center for almost 30 years, cheerily telling visitors
in five languages how a tree's roots absorb nutrients, its wood holds
moisture and its needles turn sunlight to energy.
Glen Gilbert, the center's dynamo president for about two years now,
wants it to do much more.
"I want to put a spotted owl up there," he says, referring to the
bird whose protection ends most logging on public lands in the
It's nowhere Gilbert's first step shaking up an institution seen by
some as a stodgy front for the timber industry.
But it's a revealing one: No point shying away from the bird whose
story should be told head-on, engaging visitors who want to see why
forests are so vital, vibrant - and places of contention.
"Let's stick it in the place where people think we might not want to
put it, because it's such an icon of everything the Northwest has gone
through," he said.
Such is Gilbert's vision for revitalizing the vast wooden hall that
rises across from the Oregon Zoo and next to the Children's Museum but
attracts so few visitors - about 35,000 to the zoo's 1.3 million -
that he's a bit embarrassed by the number.
He and the center's board of directors are determined to change that,
as they changed the center's name Jan. 1. The World Forest Center is
now the Forest Discovery Center, reflecting its modern mission as a
world-class window on forests and the issues that surrounmd them.
"I believe the need is greater today than it has ever been to provide
a balanced understanding in the eyes of the public," said board member
John Hampton, chairman of Portland timber company Hampton Affiliates.
The center also is riding the wave of an exhibit Gilbert organized to
mark what would have been the 101st birthday of nature photographer
Ansel Adams this winter. The show of 50 original, locally owned photos
has proven more popular than any other event in memory, bringing as
many people in the door in the past two months as had visited in the
eight months before.
"We open the doors at 10 in the morning and people are waiting to
come in," Gilbert gushes. "It's such a wonderful feeling."
There are many more plans to draw many more visits:
- Late this year a historic carousel of hand-carved wooden animals
will move from a California shopping mall to a new rotunda next to the
center, aiming to lure families that might otherwise pass the center
- Lectures and other events continuing into February are exploring
the art, life and influence of Ansel Adams.
- Wildfires like those that stormed through Oregon last summer will
take the spotlight in a new exhibit to open by May.
- About $6.3 million in donations has been committed to a $7 million
makeover of the center and its exhibits, including the talking tree -
and, possibly, a new, outdoor "canopy walk" that will lead visitors
through nearby treetops.
- Workers are overhauling and building a new shelter for Peggy, a
93-year-old locomotive that hauled 1 billion board feet of logs in
Washington and Oregon forests and is a draw for families.
The forestry center got its start when a log building constructed for
the 1905 Lewis and Clark Centennial Exposition in Portland and later
billed as the world's largest log cabin burned to the ground in 1964.
Local leaders quickly decided to build a new testament to Western
forests, recalls W.D. Hagenstein, a longtime Northwest forester
involved in the project.
Its goal was to show Northwesterns "that forest was good for them,
period," he said. "That's it. No more than that."
What was then called the Western Forestry Center opened in 1971. Its
even-handed displays today address conflicts such as the decline of
the northern spotted owl and value of old growth trees, and include a
Smithsonian Institution exhibit of tropical forests. But new knowledge
of forests and increasingly interactive museum exhibits elsewhere have
left the center dated and yearning for visitors.
It may be known as much for its timber conferences as for the talking
"When we did market research, we found people perceived it as
something to do with industry, but nothing to do with them," Gilbet
Which is roughly where he comes in.
The 41-year-old lawyer had just led a $35 million fund drive for a
new public library in Berkeley, Calif., when the forestry center's
board hired him. They told him to raise its profile while raising
enough money to give it a long-overdue facelift.
"Certainly to appeal to today's audiences we need to put things in
that are technologically up-to-date," said board member Hal Salwasser,
dean of the School of Forestry at Oregon State University. "We need to
address new thinking like the idea that managing forests sustainably
is not just what foresters do in the woods, it's also about how each
of us uses wood products and whether we use them wisely."
But the first challenge is to bring in visitors - the center is
shooting for 150,000 five years from now. The historic carousel is a
big, friendly attraction that should help meet the challenges, while
giving the center a chance t tell the story of the wood that went into
its giraffes, dragons and other elaborate figures.
It will be housed in an airy new rotunda with walls that can be
opened in good weather.
The Ansel Adams show, so popular it's been extended through February,
may be something of a symbolic step for the center. Not only did it
create an entirely new draw that Gilbert hopes to repat with other
rotating exhibits, but it also embraced a photographer known as an
icon of the environmental movement - a rather clear sign that the
center is not beholden to Northwest logging.
"I think it's helping change peolpe's image and awareness of what it
is we do," Gilbert said. "Ultimately this place is going to be about
finding a balance. Some places in nature should be left as they are.
The center's board reflects a similar sort of blanace, including
timber bosses such as Hampton but also local conservation leaders,
such as officials of the Audubon Society of Portland and The Nature
Conservancy. When Gilbert arrived., the terms "balance" and
"sustainable" were not in its mission statement.
They are now.
The overhaul of the center's exhibits will seek a balance, too,
illustrating the center's role of logging without hiding what some see
as its faults. It will be much more interactive, less a museum with
artifacts under glass, and more an experience filled with sights and
sounds of the forest, and human perspectives from all sides of the
logging debate that may always smolder in the Northwest.
That is, in part, why Peggy the logging locomotive will not sit
prominently in front of the center, but off to the side.
"We don't want people to think, Oh, it's a timber museum,'" Gilbert
said. "We're also talking about the future. The history's great, but
if we don't learn from it, we watch the population go up exponentially
and we can't sustain it."
That's all well and good, says Hagenstein, who has watched the center
from its birth. But he worries the center "has lost its way a little
bit," straying form its main purpose of showing Northwesterns the good
forestry does. It nags at him that the term "forestry" was dropped
from the center's name.
"Anyone trying to represent what forestry's all about ought to use
that word," he said.
Gilbert hopes the center's new direction will broaden its reach,
making its messages more powerful and lasting. Its conferences reflect
that, said Jim Brown, Oregon's state forester, drawing ever larger and
more diverse crowds.
"What we really want to be in engaging," Gilbert said. I'm not sure
we have all the answers. But we can be a place where people come to
ask the questions and make up their own minds about the rest."
Posted as a courtesy by
Daniel B. Wheeler