Hundred Acre Wood: A Retirement Project

Present day view of 100 Acre Wood © Jane Viehl
Present day view of 100 Acre Wood © Jane Viehl

This blog post was originally published on Greenbelt Land Trust’s website with the title, “Retirement Project.

Four and a half years ago I started a blog:  “Today,” I wrote, “we bought a farm.”  The reaction to this announcement was not unexpected.  “Have they forgotten how old they are?” our friends asked one another.  Our kids texted back and forth between Pasadena and Seattle.  “Weren’t one of us supposed to be watching them?  What’s next?  Beach-front property in Florida?  A Winnebago?”

No, freed from the constraints of a downtown job and the supervisory presence of offspring, we bought a piece of property along Llewellyn Road in Corvallis.  A hundred acres was more than we’d had in mind when we began to search, but there it was.  Rolling oak savanna, wetlands along Muddy Creek, a thick oak copse, and a view of Marys Peak.  We were so struck by the beauty that we didn’t stop to consider that farming is actually not a profession easily learned on the autumn slopes of life.

But that was okay.  We didn’t intend to “farm” this property.  What we had in mind was work on habitat restoration along the lines of the many sites we’d visited during Larry’s tenure as board member of the Oregon Chapter of the Nature Conservancy.  Yes, I know.  Habitat restoration isn’t easy, either, for amateurs like us without a lot of help.

A view of the property before restoration began. &copy: J. Viehl
A view of the property before restoration began. ©: J. Viehl

The land had been heavily grazed and was choked with thistle, tansy, and blackberry.  The seasonal streams were degraded, a derelict house slumped on its foundation, the well, though operative, was heavy with nitrate, and the grazing cattle drank freely from Muddy Creek.  Yikes!

At about this point, the USFWS Partners Program came into our lives.  They would come onto the property, assess possibilities, provide plans, and even offer financial help in implementation.  A chance meeting with Jessica McDonald from Greenbelt Land Trust led to our introduction to the conservation community.  The amazing Donna Schmitz of Benton Soil and Water Conservation District led a successful bid for an OWEB grant.

And here we are in September of 2018.  The streams have been fenced and their banks planted with some 6,600 trees and shrubs all thanks to the grant.  Muddy Creek has been fenced off from the attention of grazing cattle.  (Don’t worry, a system of pipes provides water from the well to watering stations for the animals.)  Jarod Jebousek of USFWS is working to restore the natural flow of water across the land, planning to build a vernal pool on behalf of birds and aquatic creatures like frogs and salamanders.  He’s planted 13 acres of native seed to attract monarchs and the Fender’s blue butterfly.

There have certainly been challenges.  Cleaning the barn after decades of dairy animals wasn’t much fun.  Two years pulling tansy led to an acceptance of judicious spraying.  I accidentally weed-whacked one of our new apple trees to death.  A little family of mice unknowingly settled into the foundation of the house as it was being built and sadly died over the first summer of our residence.  We drilled four wells, only one of which provides water, that ran dry, however, the morning of the open house we hosted for our Portland friends.  We lost the largest oak on the property to old age or wind last week, though it thoughtfully heaved its huge branches across, not onto, the new perimeter fence.

Larry Viehl and the fallen Oak. © J. Viehl
Larry Viehl and the fallen Oak. © J. Viehl

At the moment, we’re working to relocate the little chicken coop we had built.  Misplaced, it slopes with an endearing charm, but must be moved to a site adjoining our fenced orchard.  This so that the three hens we have yet to acquire may roam freely among the trees neighboring their new home.

While there’s no end to the work, we remain (despite the skepticism of friends and family) enthusiastic, although usually tired by the evening. We are pleased we chose this retirement option instead of golfing in the desert or that beachfront condo in Florida.

Jane Viehl on her land
Jane Viehl on her land

You can follow along with Jane and her husband Larry’s restoration and farming progress on Jane’s wonderful blog Hundred Acre Wood.