Hesthavn Nature Center: Local Volunteers Transform Wildlife Property Into a Sanctuary For Owls and Educational Destination

Photos by Mckenna Christmas and Dhe Yazan Alkomati

In 1993, Alan and Helen Berg donated a 5.75-acre parcel of land just west of Corvallis to the Audubon Society of Corvallis. At the time of the donation, the property had been used as a horse pasture, the horses remained on the property until 1997. The Bergs dubbed the land Hesthavn, a Danish word meaning “horse haven,” a name that stuck even after the Audubon volunteers removed the pasture fencing and cleaned up the barn on the property.

Today, efforts continue to restore the original habitat. The barn has been renovated and renamed Hesthavn Nature Center, which functions as an educational facility, a meeting place, and a museum for wildlife specimens.

As one of their first open houses, volunteers such as Gary Gibson, Dale Mitchelle, and Marie Martin greeted the people of Corvallis with tours of the facility with presentations, and informative pamphlets about the surrounding wildlife.

Despite the facility existing for about 25 years, Mitchelle explains that bigger plans lie ahead for the center.

“We’re going to start tweaking, start to hold other events, and start to try and think about other things we might do. Right now it’s just an introduction; we’re just opening it up,” said Mitchelle.

Volunteers wish to bring more people in with events, such as a birding workshop happening at 10 a.m. on January 29. Other attractions include collecting macroinvertebrates, learning how to harvest rainwater, and the infamous solar composting toilet.

An open house will continue to be held every other Saturday from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. where the general public has access to explore the open trails which cover the six-acre property. The land is also overflowing with preserved birds that can be viewed up-close and personal along with different species of bugs, bats, and protected bird eggs.

“We want to open it up to let people know what’s here, that we are here. We really feel that this is a park that was forgotten.” Mitchelle explains. Volunteers are always needed out in the fresh air as an escape from the chaos of the city.

Mitchelle and the short-staffed crew hauled compost, live animals, and wild brush out from the exact spot the nature center was built. They helped develop the oasis with their own ambition with the intent of educating the public. What was once a pile of horse manure has evolved into what is now known as the flourishing Hesthaven Nature Center.

Gary Gibson is one of the founders of Hesthavn Nature Center. During Hesthavn’s open house on January 25, Gibson mentioned that the Northern Spotted Owl is in danger of extinction. This is due to the loss of habitat and especially the low reproduction rate, which is the major reason that drive species to extinction.

According to the Oregon Fish and Wildlife Office: “More recently, competition from encroaching Barred Owls has accelerated the decline in Spotted Owls across most of their range. Barred Owls are not native to the Northwest, having arrived from the Eastern U.S. relatively recently. They are larger than Spotted Owls, more aggressive, and have a broader diet which makes them more resilient to declines in habitat quality. They compete against and exclude Spotted Owls from the remaining Spotted Owl habitat.”

The main reason that Barred Owls were forced to leave the Eastern U.S. and move to the Northwest is climate change. Climate change negatively affected their habitats and forced them to move for survival, and these changes affected a lot of species. There were once more than 120 bird species in the Northwest, but the last time they counted, they only found 97 bird species, according to Gibson.

Story and Photos by Mckenna Christmas and Dhe Yazan Alkomati

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