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A park for all seasons.

Byline: Randi Bjornstad The Register-Guard

SPRINGFIELD - Not many parks can boast of being ane American Indian campsite, a living history museum, a national historic landmark and a working nut ranch, but the Willamalane Park and Recreation District's Dorris Ranch is all that, and then some.

Located at the confluence of the Middle and Coast forks of the Willamette River, the 250-acre ranch started out in 1903 as Oregon's first working filbert farm and quite possibly the first commercial filbert operation in the United States.

According to MUSE, an organization that supports museums in Springfield and Eugene, more than half of the commercial filbert trees in the United States came from Dorris Ranch nursery stock.

Dorris Ranch doesn't feature the standard fare - playgrounds, ballfields and barbecue pits - usually associated with publicly owned parks.

Instead, it's open year-round for quiet, self-guided walks on paths through acres of ancient filbert trees; picnics along the swiftly flowing Willamette; and occasional glimpses of deer, beaver and a variety of birds.

The ranch also offers a slew of organized events, such as Historic Preservation Month activities in May, a living history festival weekend in August, two days of haunted hayrides before Halloween, seasonal organized "trail talks" and many hosted school field trips.

The property also may be rented for group picnics, weddings, retreats and parties - even the occasional Civil War re-enactment.

George Dorris and his wife, Lulu, bought the ranch in 1892, and it remained under family ownership for nearly 100 years. Although the couple had no children who lived past infancy, their nephew, Ben Dorris, joined them as a partner in the ranch operation in 1925.

He and his wife, Klysta, usually called Kay, had four children - John, George, Mary and Benjamin - who grew up at the ranch.

The younger George Dorris, now 76, has lived for decades in New York City, where he co-edits a dance history journal and writes for other dance magazines. But he vividly remembers his growing-up years on the Dorris Ranch.

"We moved to the farm in 1935, when I was 5," he said. "It was a wonderful place - it was absolutely bucolic in summer. There were endless places to walk, up the hill, around the orchards, to the river."

The river came in handy on hot days when he was supposed to be pruning filbert trees, Dorris admitted.

"I'm afraid I was bone lazy, and I'd sneak off from my chores and go swimming," he recalled.

Later, the children had a much safer and more convenient spot to swim. His father built a large concrete pool - its remains are still visible on the grounds - filled from the river via an irrigation canal that ran through it on its way back to the river, near the family's farmhouse.

He remembers the house, still in use at the ranch, as "very simple" and, at least initially, not entirely comfortable.

"When we moved there, the only heat was a wood stove in the kitchen and the fireplace," Dorris said. "The house was extensively remodeled in 1940, when the porch was enclosed and central heating was added."

His parents threw a big party each Christmas - "My father always cut a huge Christmas tree; it became rather famous," Dorris said - as well as swimming parties in the summer.

Decades later, after the park district purchased the farm, Dorris and his sister, Mary Trumpening, returned to Eugene, and a party was thrown in their honor at the old farmhouse.

"It was wonderful to have a party again in our own dining room," Dorris said. "We walked (through the grounds) and had a wonderful time talking about living there."

Everyone in the Dorris family supported the idea of selling the farm to Willamalane, "because we all loved the place, and we liked the notion that other people would be able to enjoy it, too."
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Title Annotation:Recreation
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:Apr 26, 2007
Words:638
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