Forested land arcing around the city of Springfield will now stay that way forever. “It’s a heck of a lot better than the alternative,” said Hugh Gray. Gray’s great-great-grandfather—an explorer and scout for wagon trains—homesteaded the property more than 150 years ago. Here you’ll find timberland, prairie, and wildlife. Thanks to a voter-approved local ballot initiative in 2012, these woods and adjoining acres of iconic ridgeline now make up the 600-acre Thurston Hills Natural Area and Community Forest.
Getting to this point, however, required ingenuity. The Gray family—Hugh and his two sisters—had a park-like vision for their family’s land. “We literally couldn’t stand the thought of this becoming a development,” Hugh said. “A decision like that lasts forever.”
The local Willamalane Park and Recreation District was interested in working to conserve the land. But they didn’t have the resources.
“I got this cold call from a farmer wanting to discuss protection of his family’s land,” said Owen Wozniak, project manager for The Trust For Public Land (TPL). “I checked it out and it’s amazing—a huge landscape connection that would fulfill a regional Rivers to Ridges conservation vision.” TPL enlisted their conservation finance team to work with Willamalane to help develop and pass the $20 million local bond measure. They then assisted in brokering a deal to purchase the Gray family’s homestead and adjacent lands, garnering support from Bonneville Power Administration and the US Forest Service.
Today, the 600 acres is owned by Willamalane. Plans for restoration and a community forest are under way. Thurston Hills will also provide walking, hiking, and mountain biking opportunities.
“To me, the real beneficiary is the community of Springfield which, in one fell swoop, got a park comparable to Portland’s Forest Park—in location and visibility,” said Wozniak. “You know, they just created their legacy.”