Alanna Madden

PORTLAND, Ore. (CN) — A lucky day for hikers and history buffs, the Tillamook Forest Center reopened its doors to the public Friday for the first time since the onset of the Covid-19 outbreak in March 2020.

“We are thrilled to be welcoming visitors back to the Tillamook Forest Center and to share our passion and knowledge about Oregon’s forests once again,” said Denise Berkshire, interim director for the Tillamook Forest Center, in a statement.

The Tillamook Forest Center is a 13,500-square-foot forest-based interpretive and educational center centrally located in the Tillamook State Forest, about 50 miles west of Portland and 22 miles east of Tillamook.

The forest center first opened to the public in 2006 and has since remained a popular destination for families, travelers, hikers and anyone who enjoys a good history lesson. However, once the facility shut down in response to the Covid-19 outbreak in March 2020, it had difficultly reopening due to staffing issues and facility maintenance requirements.

Nonetheless, the Tillamook Forest Center was ready to open on Friday at 10 a.m., with staff waiting cheerily outside in the chilly but sunny weather for an entourage of school buses just minutes from pulling up.

Outside of the young students, the grand reopening was slow to start. Luke Parson, the forest center’s interpretation, education and volunteer coordinator, said he expects traffic in the facility to pick up significantly over the weekend, especially since the weather is so nice.

Those who visit can still expect to be greeted by a climbable 40-foot replica of a forest fire lookout tower in the parking lot, which happens to be similar to the one that first spotted the fire that started the “Tillamook Burn” — a notorious story if you’re local to the area.

Although adorned with towering firs today, the Tillamook State Forest was once scourged by forest fires in the era known as the Tillamook Burn between 1933 to 1951. As visitors of the forest center will learn throughout their experience, these devastating wildfires caused by logging struck at six-year intervals, burning 355,000 acres.

With the collective help of legislative efforts and the painstaking work of conservation volunteers and prison laborers, the area began recovering between 1949 and 1973. During this reforestation effort, 72 million seeds were hand-sewn and another billion were scattered by helicopter, providing the beautiful forest that stands today.

Once visitors finish observing the view from the tower, they can meander behind the facility to find a trail system connecting to the site’s 250-foot pedestrian suspension bridge, which leads across the Wilson River to the Wilson River Trial and nearby Jones Creek Campground.

And that's only the outside of the center.

Inside, visitors immerse themselves in an educational walkthrough of both the regional and forest history. There are some Indigenous histories, a lot of documentation of western settlements and more so the broader histories of logging and railroad industries. But the center also emphasizes forest ecosystem conservation and education, making it a well-rounded experience for visitors of all ages.

The Tillamook Forest Center is typically closed during winter months. Initial limited hours will be Friday through Sunday, 10 a.m. through 4 p.m., then expanding to a five-day-a-week summer schedule starting May 3.