Englewood Forest is a term given by urban foresters and naturalists to a unique stand of trees in Salem and the life that accompanies it.The heart of the grove is Englewood Park, a 7-acre city property situated between 19th Street and 21st Street, and Nebraska Avenue and Virginia Street – in an older northeast neighborhood of town. But Englewood Forest extends beyond official boundaries, across street divisions and into the civic life of Salem and its ecology and history.
The park in the forest’s center is historical and beloved. Englewood is Salem’s oldest, located on land purchased in 1926 from the Kay family. Its trees are primarily Douglas fir and Oregon White Oak, with two varieties of cedar intermixed in small numbers. It contains paths, play equipment and a splash fountain and is tended by a band of passionate residents in the Northeast Neighborhood Association (NEN) as well as the City of Salem Public Works Department.
Jude Geist, Parks Operations Supervisor with the City of Salem, admires the “unique band of Douglas fir and oak of Englewood Park, because you seldom find that density of forestry stand in any city.” Kristin Ramstad, urban forester with the Oregon Department of Forestry, highlights the tract’s importance further; “Englewood is what urban foresters call a ‘Native Remnant Park’ which means it is an area of older trees that are actually remnants of native forests. They aren’t “old growth” but are certainly trees that predate settlers.“
“The value of an area like Englewood Park, from an urban forestry perspective, typically doesn’t focus on timber but instead on the value the trees give a neighborhood, and the environmental services they provide. Mature trees like Native Remnants intercept greater rainfall and are good for mitigating steam water run-off. They intercept particulates like smoke and pollution in the air. They also have wildlife habitat values, since critters live in the canopies of mature trees that can’t exist in younger trees.”
Kasia Quillinan is a member of NEN and has been active in Englewood Park’s well-being for many years. She also understands the ecological value of Englewood. “Parks are important to our city,” she says, “because of all the oxygen they produce.” Quillinan’s husband, David Engen, another dedicated park supporter, adds, “Cities raise the area temperature of regions like the Willamette Valley. A city park serves as an “urban heat island,” because its trees cool and modify the warmer temperatures of concrete and buildings.”
The couple has picked up trash daily in the park and up and down 21st Street between Nebraska and Market, for more than three years. When six Douglas fir were lost in 1996 rains, the two were part of a neighborhood effort to dig holes for replacement trees. Another NEN member, Laura Sauter, actually donated a post-hole digger to the project. When one tree didn’t make it to 1997, schoolchildren from Englewood Elementary, which occupies the same block, dug another. Episodes like these account for Quillinan saying “the whole area community is involved.”
After the felled trees were cut by park staff, Engen took the opportunity to study the rings. His count verified that the Douglas fir would now be between 80 and 100 years old. The Oregon White Oak may be even older, according to foresters who say the taller, faster-growing fir may have shaded them over the decades.
The unique forest atmosphere draws neighbors in, Quillinan says. “Practically everyone who has a child or dog in the area goes there. Mothers take young children and it’s also great for middle school kids; there aren’t too many things Salem neighborhoods offer middle school kids, but this is definitely a positive one. The toys are well used, and in summer the basketball court is well used. And there’s almost no graffiti because it’s so beloved.”
Englewood forest is larger than just Englewood Park, because Native Remnants still live and grow in streets neighboring the park and extend to 21st Street, to along D Street, across D Street into the Jason Lee Cemetery and onto State Hospital grounds. Residents have large trees in yards that they haven’t cut down, and those are part of the forest, too. These trees can be seen clearly; they are distinct from surrounding buildings and younger trees, organisms of an earlier era.
Kristin Ramstad explains how a forest can extend beyond boundaries; “The way urban foresters view things, urban forests include street trees, riparian growth such as along the Willamette River, yard trees and the oaks you see in Bush Pasture Park. Most people consider each part just a mini-forest, but they’re are all part of the urban forest. But the Native Remnants are special. It really is unique here to have an older conifer stand in a neighborhood. The trees are extremely important to nature and the city.”
Englewood Forest contributes to the urban ecosystem in ways younger trees in new developments can’t. The life it supports is varied. Birds come down from the hills in winter and fly back in summer. Native squirrels, opossums and skunks thrive. A few of the many birds NIN members have seen include; Varied Thrush, Robins, Stellar’s and Western Scrub Jay, Oregon Junco, Black-caped chickadees and Chestnut-backed Chickadees, owls, Red-tailed Hawks and Ring-necked Pheasants.
The grove shows poignantly when it crosses D Street, which is almost lined with the tall old fir, and into historic Jason Lee Cemetery. The graveyard, established in 1842, has its west and southern edges still populated with Native Remnants. The trees were already standing when Salem residents were buried on the grounds a hundred years ago. Ramstad appreciates the qualities of the grove here. “Often graveyard trees grow in the open, so we can see the natural form of them, the way they want to genetically express themselves. It’s a wonderful metaphor for life; a place an organism can reach its best self, like all who were buried aspired to. The forest (in Jason Lee Cemetery) conveys a sense of place and really connects us to our history.”
Englewood Forest has myriad facets. It gives Salem value by keeping our atmosphere cooler and our rainwater better managed. It exists in the affection of elementary school children and in the respect of city park managers. Its neighbors give it their energy and care. Many of our ancestors are buried beneath it. It is intertwined with Salem’s ecology, with its history and with its future.