Tourism came to Scio Oct. 16,when 53 nationwide American Tree Farm System members visited some Linn County covered bridges and the Bentz family’s Blue Den Ranch in Scio.
The group, taking a pre-convention tour, boarded a motorcoach and left the Hilton hotel in downtown Portland, took a guided ride through French Prairie farmland, Brooks, Silverton, Sublimity and Stayton to Bentz’s tree farm in Scio and visited the Jordan, Hannah, Larwood and Shimenek covered bridges before returning to Portland for the convention’s opening ceremonies.
K.C. VanNatta, a native Oregonian and part owner and operator of his family’s 1700-acre Columbia County tree-farm and logging operation, helped organize the tour and was on board as a guide.
“Most of the people were from the East Coast and they were very impressed with the size and the variety of our trees,” VanNatta said. “Both in the northeast and the south, they grow predominately five or six species of hardwoods and a couple of plantation pines that only get to about 80-feet, so our conifer forests with 130 foot trees is new to them.
“Forests like the Bentz’s variety of Douglas firs, hemlocks, white firs, grand firs, cedar, spruce and redwoods, just isn’t something you would see outside of our part of the country.”
The late Ron Bentz, bought the cut-over stump ranch stump ranch 1964 and turned into a 600-acre thriving forest land. To provide needed income quickly, he created and stocked five lakes with trout and started a private fishing club.
Today, the hatchery is an important part of the operation providing revenue while they cut back on timber cutting during low prices. Bentz also developed an early-life pioneer museum of farm machinery, tools and memorabilia and a small sawmill and a fish hatchery that is now the oldest private hatchery in Oregon.
The ATFS named Ron and Barbara Bentz as the 2002 National Outstanding Tree Farmers of the Year at the National Tree Farmer convention in Asheville, North Carolina. Though Ron Bentz suffered a fatal heart attack at his home shortly after the convention, his family has continued to be actively involved with the tree farm operations and management.
The Bentz’s were selected from among 65,000 other Certified Tree Farmers in ATFS because their tree farm is a shining example of sustainable forest management. The folks that toured the Blue Den Ranch will remember that. What they will also remember as tourists is the valley’s beautiful fertile farmland, the small towns and villages, the quaint covered bridges and the great hospitality extended them by the Bentz family.