Thurston Hills Natural Area

Thurston Hills Natural Area Springfield Oregon
A mountain biker washes his bike at Thurston Hills Natural Area.

Mountain bikers can wash their bikes before and after their rides to help minimize the spread of invasive species.

Mountain Bike Trails are Now Open!

Willamalane Park and Recreation District along with Disciples of Dirt have opened new mountain bike trails at Thurston Hills Natural Area.

“These are the first natural-surface mountain bike trails in the region,” said Fraser MacDonald, Natural Resources Planner at Willamalane. The system boasts over five miles of trails optimized for biking. The 2.2 miles of new downhill mountain bike trails are in addition to the hiking trails that were unveiled in January.

This mountain bike trail adds to the trailhead and initial trail system at the 665-acre natural area that opened in January 2018. The 1.9-mile North Access Trail features a compacted gravel surface. The 1.2-mile Spine Trail continues along the ridgeline to a gravel road at the south end of the property.

Willamalane funded this project in part from their 2012 bond measure. Additionally, they received $154,000 in grant funding from Oregon State Parks Recreational Trails Program to support construction of this project. As part of that grant, the Disciples of Dirt pledged volunteer labor to support construction. To date, Disciples of Dirt have donated over 1,900 hours of volunteer help. They assisted with removing vegetation, armoring stream crossings, bridge building, trail digging, and leading teams of less-experienced volunteers. In addition to providing volunteer hours, the Disciples of Dirt also donated $27,000 to the project, with $20,000 in grant funding from REI and another $7,000 from their members and sponsors.

“It’s been an incredible partnership and has allowed us to develop more miles of trail faster and less expensively than we could have without their support,” MacDonald said.

Willamalane also had professional support in developing mountain bike-optimized trails from trail construction contractor Ptarmigan Ptrails.

“The optimized design makes the trails easier and more fun to ride,” MacDonald said. “There are wider turns, grade reversals, berms at turns and a moderate grade that makes for a really fun experience.”

Natural Habitats and Restoration at Thurston Hills

This unique site is home to a variety of habitats including conifer and mixed forest, oak woodlands, grasslands (oak savannas and prairie habitats), and cliffs, rocky outcrops and talus. The habitats are home to a multitude of plant and animal species including nine species that are listed in the Oregon Conservation Strategy as species of particular interest and priority for conservation. Western bluebird and Lewis’ woodpecker are two species listed in the Oregon Conservation Strategy that are found at the site and are most dependent on oak prairie and oak woodland habitats. Historically the woodlands found at Thurston Hills Natural Area would have been much more open in their understory allowing the Lewis’ woodpecker to easily forage for acorns on the ground.

Over the past century, fire exclusion has allowed native and non-native vegetation including conifers to encroach into oak woodland and prairies. Over time conifers in particular are able to grow in the shade of the oak until they overtop the oak and outcompete them for sunlight and other important resources reducing key habitat for species like the acorn woodpeckers, white-breasted nuthatch and western grey squirrel. Currently less than 5% of the historic acreage of oak woodland and 1% of prairie habitats remain in the Willamette Valley (Oregon Conservation Strategy, 2016).

To address this degraded habitat condition Willamalane Park and Recreation District and the Middle Fork Willamette Watershed Council will be releasing oak trees by thinning out the majority of undesirable trees. The result will be a much more open woodland that will allow the Oregon white oak to receive sufficient sunlight to mature with full open grown canopies. In the prairie we will be removing invasive species and encroaching woody vegetation to retain an open prairie condition dominated by grasses and forbs.

In addition, Willamalane will be undertaking a fuels reduction project that aims to reduce the threat of catastrophic wildfire on the site.  Look for crews who will be removing overgrown native and non-native vegetation in the understory in addition to dense shrubs and some trees along the main access road into the site.

This work will help reduce fire risk and will create a significant fire break along the access road and across the property in addition to improving access to the site for emergency responders. This work will be implemented across 490 acres in small phases over the next five years.

These projects may impact trails and road usage while heavy equipment and crews are working on the site. Please stay tuned to the kiosks and the website for any trail closures and keep your eyes open for related trail signage. Enjoy this wonderful natural area!


infographic about the timeline of thurston hills natural area restoration

Novedades sobre el parque

La zona natural de Thurston Hills, un parque de 665 acres para caminar y andar en bicicleta, ya está abierto.

Los senderos más recientes, en el nuevo punto de partida en el McKenzie Highway y la calle 75. El sendero incluye un área de estacionamiento, baños, una estación de lavado de bicicletas y un puesto de información que lo ayudará a transitar su aventura.

Nuestros primeros dos senderos establecidos son el sendero de acceso al norte, de 1.9 millas, y el sendero central, de 1.2 millas. Se encontrará con hermosas vistas del bosque y un ascenso empinado cuando cruce las crestas rocosas.

La zona natural de Thurston Hills está formada de diversos hábitats, como una sabana de roble, peñascos rocosos, manantiales y bosques. Es hogar de 33 especies vegetales y 38 especies animales.

Esta gran área recreativa seguramente será un interesante centro de actividades para senderistas y ciclistas de montaña. Hasta ahora, más de 60 voluntarios han ofrecido 600 horas de su tiempo al esfuerzo.

Willamalane planea construir eventualmente varias millas más de sendero— incluyendo un sendero cuesta abajo solo para ciclismo de montaña.

Thurston Hills Natural Area map Springfield