written by Kevin Max
Come fall, about 23,000 students sweep into Corvallis in earnest matriculation and increase the local population by nearly half. Campus blazes orange with autumn’s incoming class flying Beavers colors. Inside Reser football stadium, 45,000 denizens of the Beaver Nation are a kernel of anticipation and anxiety, their hope measured in first downs and touchdowns. Their memories dazzle with images from the 2008 season, when the team rallied behind Jacquizz Rodgers, who ran over the first-place USC Trojans to set up a nine-win season.
No matter what the score, no matter what the season, Corvallis is, after all, the cor vallis, Latin for ‘heart of the valley.’ Verdant hills lie west of town, the Cascade range sits just to the east, and the Willamette River glides slowly through town. With its mild temperatures, rich soil and ample rainfall, Corvallis is, not surprisingly, also home to one of the country’s top agriculture schools.
In 1917, while it was still called Oregon Agriculture College and was climbing the ranks as a top science school, the land-grant Oregon State University became the launch pad for the prolific career of Linus Pauling, a two-time Nobel Prize winner. Often cited as the “father of molecular biology,” Pauling won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1954, and the Nobel Peace Prize in 1962, for his ongoing opposition to the use of nuclear weapons.
Today Corvallis retains its agricultural roots in its higher learning institutions and among its fertile hills. If you hold the unpopular belief that tailgating is not an all-day sport, you can find plenty of places to hike, bike and run before or after heading to Reser Stadium on a long football game weekend.
photo by Bassett Studios
Downtown Corvallis is a pleasant collection of shops, restaurants and cafes that can’t adequately be consumed in one day. The core of the downtown sets up along 1st, 2nd and 3rd streets, with, perhaps, more music shops per square foot than any other small city in America. There is Grass Roots Books & Music, Gracewinds Music and Bullfrog Music, to name a few. If you were dropped from outer space into downtown Corvallis, you might conclude that OSU was not the engineering and agriculture state university, but the rival college with a thriving liberal arts program and a large music conservatory.
Tomorrow brings a sedentary stretch of tailgating, drinking, standing and sitting to watch the game. Thrilling from the neck up, but negligent of the rest of the body, if done correctly. The antidote is a preemptive run or hike in McDonald-Dunn State Forest north of town. Out 53rd to Oak Creek Drive, you come to the trailhead for the McDonald Research Forest—11,250 acres that Oregon State University’s School of Forestry manages. Here you’ll find hiking and biking trails, and challenging trail runs with long climbs that will really have you looking forward to tomorrow’s rest, fest. Past moss-covered big leaf maples and into old growth stands of Douglas fir, the Patterson Road trail brings you four miles up to the summit of Dimple Hill. The trees recede downhill, opening a beautiful panorama of the valley and your photographic money shot before heading back down.
The best room in town, especially on game day, is the Hilton Garden Inn, right across from Reser Stadium. The hotel has a bar, a restaurant and, naturally, a Beaver-themed gift shop. These accommodations are also a good transition between the peripheral forests, campus and downtown, where one of the sauciest chefs is busy making dim sum.
Kimber Hoang, Vietnamese but originally from Laos, is the creator of myriad flavors at Magenta Restaurant on 2nd Street. Hoang’s dim sum menu has more than forty items that showcase her talent as a saucier: fried wild salmon with pepper sauce, seared beef tri-tip with wine sauce, fried tilapia with spicy lime sauce and ricotta cheese ravioli with parmesan dill sauce. Magenta has a full bar, but that shouldn’t stop you from hitting the downstairs speak-easy, SNUGbar, after dinner. Any decent bourbon ever barreled resides on the shelves of the bar. The cozy warmth of this den and its enticing spirits make for a wonderful nightcap.
It’s college game day on an autumn afternoon. The OSU campus is jumping with excitement and anxiety as the Beavers pull on the pads to battle rivals they really should dominate, if everything goes as planned in their home stadium.
Before game-day rituals begin, head out for a serene fall paddle on the lazy Willamette Water Trail. Corvallis lies along the 200-mile river trail that flows north from Eugene to the mouth of the Columbia in Portland. One of the oldest paddling paths in Oregon, the Willamette Water Trail (willamettewatertrail.org) includes detailed descriptions of good put-in and take-out points along the river. Peak Sports in downtown Corvallis has rental recreational kayaks and canoes to accomplish the mission.
After all, most exercise is essentially an offset for “living large.” For the past couple hours of paddling you’ve unwittingly worked that now-trendy muscle group between the neck and knees called “the core.” Now it’s time give a little back with a pre-gater brew or two before heading to the stadium. Just down the street from Peak Sports is Block 15 Restaurant and Brewery on Jefferson and 3rd Street. This brewery and restaurant is a showcase of local and sustainable fare, with a portfolio of at least a dozen beers from Northwest hops and a creative pub menu based on local meat and produce.
Some historians believe that tailgating began during the American Civil War in 1861. From the back of wagons, people watched battles, ate and, perversely, cheered on the soldiers. On November 29, Corvallis will revert to its own “Civil War” with its 117th match against in-state perennial rival, the University of Oregon’s Ducks in Eugene. This rivalry began in 1894.
Home games, however, are preceded a sea of orange tents, burgers, dogs, sliders, beer and wine that is the tailgate tradition. As game time nears, students, alumni and locals, in one massive migration into 45,674 seats, become a roaring sea of orange and, seen from Google Earth, a grand installation of public art. As the din of voices grows, this century-old rivalry is once again under way at kickoff.
After yesterday’s indulgence, the final day is all about getting back to the land.
The local baker has the remedy for all-night tailgating. Good coffee, a case full of pastries and a breakfast menu that includes biscuits and homemade sausage gravy, are specialties at New Morning Bakery on 2nd Street.
Grab your coffee to go, pack an ice chest and head west on Highway 20 to 53rd Street. Afton Field Farm (aftonfieldfarm.com) is a 106-acre sustainable farm. Its young owners, Tyler and Alicia Jones, raise chickens, sheep, grass-fed beef and hogs. Tyler, a Corvallis native, was an early understudy with famed farmer Joel Salatin, who revolutionized rotational grazing and land stewardship. Load up on Afton Field’s T-bone and New York steaks, pork chops and bacon. The prices are reasonable and the quality superb.
If you’re feeling remotely ambitious, there are yet more hills to climb and balance to restore. Marys Peak, also west of town and the highest point in the Coastal Range, offers the challenge of beauty and beast. Wildflowers, natural meadows and Noble firs comprise some of the show along the nine-mile East Rim Trail—good for mountain biking, trail running, a brisk hike or even a simple drive to the summit. On a clear day from this 4,100-foot vantage point, you can see to the Pacific Ocean and back to the Cascades and Corvallis in the heart of the valley.
Get Beaver Fever at an OSU football game osubeavers.com
Hit Da Vinci Days in July davincidays.org
Go to a Corvallis Knights baseball game corvallisknights.com
Shop the Farmers Market on Wednesdays locallygrown.org
Big River Restaurant and Bar bigriverrest.com
Brew BQ brewbqcorvallis.com
del Alma Restaurant & Bar delalmarestaurant.com
New Morning Bakery newmorningbakery.com
Hilton Garden Inn gardeninnhilton.com
Harrison House Bed & Breakfast corvallis-lodging.com
Leaping Lamb Farm Stay in Alsea leapinglambfarm.com
Check out our Applegate Valley Trip Planner!