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Gary_carl_pic NPR Comes to Oakridge: The Story Behind the Story

At one time Oakridge had two operating lumber mills: Pope and Talbot and Hines Lumber Mill. For a variety of reasons, both of these mills closed in the late 1980s and as a consequence, the local economy collapsed. Where once there were 15,000 inhabitants, the population of the Oakridge/Westfir area shrank to about 3,000. There were few jobs and no prospects on the horizon for new industry to locate here. Stores closed, shops were empty and the vacant storefronts lined both sides of Main Street. It was dismal. And then slowly, ever so slowly, things began to change.

You should know that Oakridge is completely surrounded by the Willamette National Forest. Recreational enthusiasts began to come here to ski and hike. They came to camp and hunt and fish and raft down the rivers…and then they came to ride the mountain bike trails. With over 500 miles of single track mountain bike trails and old logging roads it is a mountain biker’s paradise. Oakridge was soon to become known as the mountain biking capital of the Northwest. There are numerous mountain biking events held in Oakridge each year that draw hundreds of riders of all skill levels from all over the country.

From the moment the producers from National Public Radio came to Oakridge, they immediately went to work interviewing the local residents. I visited with Zak Rosen, the producer of the segment of State of the Re:Union which is featuring Oakridge, and I asked him how he came to choose this town above all of the other places. He said the show was conceived some time ago and was inspired by an article about Oakridge appearing in Oregon Business magazine. They were looking for a place that had once been thriving with the timber business but had fallen into decline; a place that was reinventing itself. They considered several different towns and eventually settled on Oakridge, Oregon. They had heard about the mountain biking activity here and wanted to see and report first hand on what was happening.

Zak is a graduate of Indiana University in Bloomington, Indiana. He grew up in Detroit, Michigan and his family still lives there. When Zak goes “home” he returns to Detroit. Currently he is temporarily living in Brooklyn, New York. Zak got his start in public radio when he became involved with the student run radio station at his school. I asked what he expected to find when he came to Oakridge. He said he thought he would find a blend of blue collar mill workers left over from the boom times mixed with a younger generation engaged in the Northwest mountain biking scene. He found what he expected.

This is the story that State of the Re:Union came to investigate. “What does a town look like that is on the precipice of a Renaissance?” Is there enough impetus to mountain biking to carry Oakridge through to an economic recovery? I don’t think anyone knows the answer at this moment and only time will tell. State of the Re:Union will be producing a radio program on National Public Radio within the next month or so that will analyze the issue and offer their own perspective. I am personally interested to know what Zak Rosen learned from the diverse people he interviewed. I think he did a thorough and professional job. He spoke to many people in our community with various viewpoints and interests. Zak Rosen impressed me as a bright and perceptive young man. He asked good questions and he listened for the answers. Now I look forward to listening to his program on State of the Re:Union (it will broadcast locally on KLCC), and I am also hoping someday Zak will return and visit us again.

Gary Carl co-owns the Oakridge Hostel in Oakridge, Oregon with his partner, Lynda Kamerrer. You can follow Gary's story behind the story of State of the Re:Union in Oakridge here on RIPPLE.

See all posts by Gary Carl.

Beth says
04.16.10 // 11:22 AM
Thanks for your post Gary. I often think of Oakridge as a prototypical rural Oregon town. The transition from the timber based economy and strategies you all are taking to create a vibrant and stable economy are aligned with what many towns across Oregon have been doing over the past decade. I would love to hear more about "The Oakridge Story" and how it compares to other ex timber towns in.
Yayoe Kuramitsu says
04.16.10 // 02:32 PM
Gary, you write so well. Your story about the history of Oakridge is informative and interesting. Keep up the good work! Thanks
Robert says
04.17.10 // 08:48 AM
Terrific post Gary. I have been working in timber towns for a number of years - first in the woods and now as someone who is helping promote economic and community development. I agree with Beth when she says that the "strategies you all are taking to create a vibrant and stable economy are aligned with what many towns across Oregon have been doing over the past decade." Those strategies, however, often result in little success. For some reason Oakridge feels different. I look forward to your next post and to Zak's article.
Erica says
04.20.10 // 11:28 AM
Great story, I look forward to future installments!
Gary Williamson says
08.14.10 // 09:40 AM
I grew up in Oakridge in the "boom" years, living in an area called Willamette City from about 1961 to 1974. I heard the story on NPR this AM, then went home and signed onto NPR and watched the vidio, read their text and then listened to the 1 hour long version. With the hope that it will survive and thrive, I will stay at the Oakridge Hostel some day. Last summer I camped at Salmon Creek falls campground and spent the next day rafting down the North Fork. I now live in California and remember my Oakridge day with great fondness.
Alison says
08.14.10 // 12:05 PM
I also heard the story on NPR this morning, looked it up online, and watched the video ( I live west of Oakridge and love to stop there on my way to the mountains for snowshoeing and snowboarding. I too intend to stay at the hostel some day. Like the video says, this is Oakridge's time to shine.

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