Retreat to a native habitat

A stream runs through the Delbert Hunter Arboretum, a park-within-a-park that is adjacent to Dallas City Park

Photo by Emily Mentzer
A stream runs through the Delbert Hunter Arboretum, a park-within-a-park that is adjacent to Dallas City Park

DALLAS — There is a place in Dallas city limits where you can escape the noise and surround yourself with forests, flowers, grassy fields and the sound of the creek.

It’s not far, rather tucked away adjacent to Dallas City Park — the Delbert Hunter Arboretum.

The arboretum is 5 acres, established by the Dallas Park Board in 1978 for the purpose of plantings, preservation, propagation and display of Oregon’s native plants.

Summerfest Sunday is the perfect time to get to know this park-within-a-park. Volunteers will be on hand to lead tours of the arboretum throughout the day.

Delbert Hunter was a member of the Dallas Parks District and wanted to develop the area for Oregon native rhododendron and other plants.

Over the decades, rocks, boulders and invasive plants were removed and dead leaves, soil, and compost were added while native plants were nurtured.

The arboretum is home to roughly two miles of trails, mostly in the shade of the native trees. Part of the trail loops around what volunteers are cultivating as a native grassland.

One trail follows a shallow, shady ravine originally dug as a flume for floating logs to a mill that occupied the area. Now, the path is filled with ferns and wild flowers, along with several hundred bulbs and other spring-blooming wild flowers.

Other areas of the garden are available for specific uses. One gardener is using a spot near the grassland meadow to experiment with native composting. Another has started a garden of succulents.

Through the meadow, birdhouses give mountain bluebirds a place to nest. In fact, many native birds make a home in the arboretum. Nests can be seen in the arboretum visitors center — of multiple species, as the house contains empty wasps nests as well as those found of birds.

Inside the center, visitors also may learn more about the plants that grow or have been tried in the arboretum — not all plants have thrived in the park. The trial and error from the Friends of the Delbert Hunter Arboretum volunteers translates into saving home gardeners from making similar mistakes. The entire history of the arboretum can be found in the visitors center. Volunteers have collected volumes of information about local plants, and combating weeds and other invasive plants and bugs.

The arboretum is a perfect place to get away and think, or to explore and learn about native plants and Native American tribes who cultivated the Willamette Valley long before settlers arrived. Because the majority of the trails are shaded, even on a hot summer afternoon, the walk is comfortable. Dogs must be leashed, and no smoking is allowed.

The no-smoking rule is strictly enforced after a fire broke out a few years ago, burning a portion of the arboretum before it was extinguished. The fire, found to be caused by a cigarette, is commemorated with one of the burnt trees still standing, now labeled as a cautionary tale of how easily the valley catches on fire during the dry season.

The arboretum has been mapped and staked in 50-square-feet lots to allow gardeners to see what is growing where. This allows for fascinating tours — but also ensures continuity as volunteers come and go from the garden.

For more information, to volunteer or schedule a tour: 503-623-7359.

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