Apr 15 // Gary Carl // Oakridge, Oregon
CATEGORY: Rural Life
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.
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