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OSU-owned research forests reopen to public amid pandemic
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OSU-owned research forests reopen to public amid pandemic

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For the first time since March 23, Henry Amberson's family could enjoy Friday's sunshine at one of their favorite spots, McDonald Research Forest.

"It's actually nice out today and I have the day off work," he said. "I'm just trying to get everybody out of the house."

His wife, two kids and their dog Chili could finally revisit the Oregon State University-owned forest for a long-awaited hike since the coronavirus pandemic began.

"There's not a whole lot to do," Amberson added about the pause of activities. "It kind of sucks."

But now that the McDonald and Dunn forests are open to the public, there are dozens more miles of trails to explore for Corvallis-area residents and visitors.

The spaces are opening on a trial-run basis, said OSU forests director Stephen Fitzgerald.

"I just hope we don't have a resurgence in Oregon and that we don't have to relive this," he said.

To keep the wish alive, Fitzgerald said, there are rules visitors must follow. These include practicing 6 feet of social distancing, taking out any trash (including dog waste) and keeping dogs on leashes.

Masks are not required, but encouraged.

"Our ability to stay open depends on people following those rules," Fitzgerald said.

Accordingly, OSU students and staff — who Fitzgerald called "greeters" — have been stationed around each park to enforce these new protocols.

Two greeters, Karen DeWolfe and Carol Carlson, pointed out a bag of dog droppings someone had already left behind around noon Friday.

"If people are coming in and leaving garbage and waste, it puts other people's lives at risk," DeWolfe said.

Carlson noted the grand re-opening started off quietly, but it's still important for visitors to positively "peer pressure" one another into healthy habits.

"It's not as busy as I was expecting so I think people have been good at kind of distancing themselves," she said. "We ask that if they do meet someone on the trail that they step off and let them pass."

Fitzgerald said the university was in talks with local groups like Team Dirt, the Oregon Hunters Association, Oregon Equestrian Trails and the Sierra Club to determine the best conditions for reopening.

Overall, he was pleased with what he'd seen Friday afternoon.

"We are really happy to have people come back out," he said, "because I know the forest is good for physical and mental well-being."

Reporter Nia Tariq can be reached at nia.tariq@lee.net.

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