In 1993 Alan and Helen Berg, both former mayors of Corvallis, donated their 5.67-acre horse pasture just west of Corvallis to the Audubon Society of Corvallis. One of the conditions of the donation was that the Hesthavn name, which means “horse harbor” in Norwegian, remain the same. The small barn was renovated and named Hesthavn Nature Center. The heated facility makes it possible to provide nature classes for schoolchildren, groups, and the general public year-round. It also functions as a museum for wildlife specimens, display area for exhibits, library, and meeting place. Oak Creek, a tributary of the Marys River, flows through Hesthavn.
Hesthavn connects the community with wildlife in their native habitat of oak savannah and Oak Creek riparian forest. The property includes two short trails, native plant garden, and bird feeders. Two picnic tables await casual lunches! No water is available at the Center, but a composting toilet is onsite.
A rainwater catchment system collects rainfall runoff for later use to water the plants. The collection tank has a solar-powered pump that needs protection from freezing so it is partly underground. Crescent Valley High School volunteers helped bury the pipelines, then leveled and positioned the tank.
This hidden jewel of a Nature Center is located in northwest Corvallis, just 10 minutes from downtown. It is a lovely spot all year and is free to the public.
The Nature Center looks compact, but it has a surprising number of exhibits and even a collection of taxidermied birds inside. There is room enough for a school class when the weather is unpleasant, and room to explore outside when the weather is fine. A solar composting toilet is on site and ready to meet your needs naturally.
The two trails, native plant garden, picnic tables, and bird feeders are accessible from dawn to dusk every day of the year. Hesthavn Nature Center is staffed only during scheduled events, and a notice will be posted on the ASC website homepage. The building is ideal for school classes or for group meetings which are scheduled a month in advance. The Center is wheelchair accessible, and admission is always free! No drinkable water is available on site, so please bring your own. Also pack out your trash to leave no trace!
The two trails at Hesthavn are both fairly short, but Paula’s Trail has a short uphill section while Ray’s Trail is pretty flat. Enjoy the cool shade in the riparian habitat along Oak Creek as summer temperatures soar.
Plants in the native garden are labeled for easy identification. Use them as a guide for creating your own native garden at home. You are welcome to borrow a copy of the Native Garden Plant List from the box on the side of the barn. Be sure to return the guide for other visitors to use.
Museum and Exhibits
ASC’s museum contains a collection of preserved birds that help to demonstrate the striking adaptations that individual species have made to co-exist with other birds in the same area. It is also easy to compare beaks, wings, feet, and other attributes. All specimens were donated after they died from injuries. Exhibits include a touch table with samples of animal fur and bones; interactive games; bat, butterfly, and bird houses; and informative posters. There is a collection of field guides to native animals and other books that can be borrowed. Small children are delighted by storybooks and the squeaky, stuffed bird toys.
The museum has an extensive of preserved birds that were donated after they died. Raptors, ducks, woodpeckers, songbirds, hummingbirds, and more were arranged in natural positions.
If you are very observant and patient, you may find remnants of animals while you are hiking – antlers, skulls, turtle carapaces, bird eggs and nests, and more! See our collection in the Nature Center.
ASC volunteers and local naturalists invite nature explorers and their families to learn about fascinating topics at specially scheduled events. The theme may be Compare Bird and Bat Wings, Food Webs in Corvallis, or What are Flycatchers made of? (Flies, of course!). Special Sunday events are often offered during the school year, which are fun and free activities for the whole family.
Education Team members enjoy a fold-out picture book from the Hesthavn library and decide to include it in a new nature program.
A Steller’s Jay is one of many birds you can spot at Hesthavn, attracted by the seed and suet feeders. They are half black and half blue, with Pacific Coast populations sporting blue streaks on their prominent black crest. Steller’s Jays live in conifer forests, unlike Scrub Jays which prefer scrubland. Scrub Jays also lack a crest and black coloration. Both species are very vocal! One of the special programs offered at Hesthavn is how to use binoculars and identify birds, which is very popular with new birders.
Preparations for a special Father’s Day program about Food Webs use the full table surfaces.
Chintimini Wildlife Center bird handlers present a raptor rehabilitation program,
Hesthavn restoration is slowly returning the former pastureland to the native habitats that were once here, with the long-term goal of full native restoration. Wildlife readily colonize restored sites, and population increases can be documented over time. Restoration also increases the diversity of plants, insects, amphibians, and reptiles which are essential to a fully functioning ecosystem. Did you see the circle fences? They are temporary to keep deer from browsing on young plants in the meadow until they get established and grow large enough to tolerate some nibbling.
Red-flowering currants bloom in early spring, enticing Rufous Hummingbirds and other nectar sippers.
This colorful native is Oregon Sunshine (Eriophyllum lanatum Forbes), which flowers in May and June. The leaves have soft hairs on the back and are blue-gray on the upper side. It requires little care and grows prolifically. This is an excellent pollinator plant, attracting hummingbirds, beetles, flies, honeybees, moths, and butterflies.
Oregon grape, an evergreen shrub that is native to much of the Pacific Coast, was named the official state flower of Oregon in 1899. Bright yellow flowers bloom in spring, attracting native and honeybees, and dark blue berries ripen in late summer and are consumed by deer and birds. The berry is edible but seedy and somewhat bitter.
ASC is helping species other than birds to survive in a changing world. The metallic-green Mason Bee, a native species that has no stinger, is a super pollinator. One female Mason Bee pollinates as many flowers as 100 (non-native) honey bees. Every year, Hesthavn hosts a Bee Buddies nest box, part of a conservation program managed by the Benton County Soil and Water Conservation District. Bees pollinate most of the food crops that humans depend upon, but their populations are declining worldwide.
Of the more than 3,000 species of bats in the world, 15 live in Oregon. Many are labeled Sensitive Species due to declining populations. Bats are environmentally important, consuming huge numbers of insects including pests that can decimate our food crops. Some bats are pollinators of important plants, while others eat fruit and scatter the seeds that can repopulate damage habitat. Bat guano is an important byproduct that is both natural and high in plant nutrients.
Mason Bees are solitary and lay their eggs on pollen balls they have collected in the SWCD nest box. In late spring SWCD collects the boxes,, and during summer the eggs hatch, the larvae feed on the pollen balls, then metamorphose to adults. In fall and winter, the adult bees hibernate in cocoons. In 2019 the Hesthavn nest box contained 342 cocoons with adult Mason Bees that will be ready to collect pollen in early spring from native plants.
Bats are mostly nocturnal so are not commonly seen. Occasionally a visiting Little Brown Bat may temporarily occupy crevices around the north and south doors of the Nature Center. If roosting spots are not available, installing a bat box can mimic the natural habitat, providing a safe, dry refuge for solitary or communal colonies. Hesthavn hosts two bat roosting boxes – a rocket box, narrow and tall and located near the tool shop, and a traditional flat box mounted on the south side of the Nature Center.