written by Ben McBee | photos by Kjersten Hellis and Ben McBee
At Dorris Ranch, history grows on trees. It usually comes in bunches of three or four, each wrapped in its own jagged, leafy crown. Truly, the hazelnut, or filbert nut as it is traditionally called in Oregon, is of noble esteem in the state, so much so that it was made the official state nut in 1989. That pride is well founded—Oregon’s orchards produce ninety-nine percent of the country’s entire hazelnut crop, and Dorris Ranch was the country’s first commercially productive hazelnut farm.
For more than a hundred years, history’s roots have held firm in the fertile land along the Willamette River where Dorris Ranch is still actively growing filberts. Its value to the Springfield community blossoms even more in its old age. In 1972, the Willamalane Park and Recreation District purchased the 258-acre farm, opening it and the surrounding natural areas to the public.
Several turn-of-the-century buildings remain standing in the park, and guided field trips are available for local area students. Visitors can learn about the farm’s founders, George and Lulu Dorris, who began to cultivate the land in 1892, and, delving even deeper, the Kalapuya Indians who lived there prior to the homesteader’s arrival.
Today, it lives on as a place where tradition, agriculture and outdoor activities blend together in a bucolic medley. Paths meander by its uniformly rowed orchards, where shadows and sunlight dapple the dirt, an ideal setting for runners looking for an alternative to Eugene’s more crowded trails.
More than half of the hazelnut orchards across the country originated from the nursery at Dorris Ranch. With its role as a center for living history and nature, it is an orchard that continues to be fruitful for those who visit.