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Boardman tree farm to be cut, cleared for farmland: 'Sad to see them go'

Nearly 1,200 came out for the Poplar Run 2016 at Boardman Tree Farm on Saturday, October 22 – a 5, 10, and 15K run through the poplars that benefits the Agape House charity in Hermiston, Oregon. This will be the final year of the run, as the tree property has sold and will not be replanted after the current poplar crop. (KATU photo by Tristan Fortsch on 10-22-2016)

A distinct Eastern Oregon landmark will no longer exist within a year.

Rows and rows of seemingly endless, symmetrical poplar trees that line Interstate 84 for six miles near Boardman will soon be gone.

One-third of the Boardman Tree Farm sold last fall to a commercial dairy farm. A Washington agriculture company bought the rest of the land in early 2016 for irrigation crops, such as corn and potatoes.

The trees were planted in the 1990s for timber, paper and biofuel production. Portland-based GreenWood Resources purchased the 25,000 acre tree farm in 2007 from Potlatch Corporation.

North American Operations Director Don Rice says tree removal has been underway for a year.

“Yeah, it's a little bittersweet,” Andrew Bourque said. “Mixed feelings.”

Bourque, whose been employed at the tree farm for more than 18 years, will be moving to Portland after the last tree is cut.

Over the past two decades, Bourque developed a personal relationship with the poplars.

“I started getting out for a noontime run, and it sort of became an everyday kind of thing,” he said standing in a grove of poplars. “We eventually had two or three of us to run at lunchtime.”

Bourque says the community expressed interest in running through some of the 6 million, 100 foot tall trees.

In 2011, Bourque hosted the company’s first public charity race, “A Very Poplar Run,” benefiting Hermiston’s Agape House.

Approximately 300 runners participated in the event. Registration increased sharply after several popular outdoor magazines featured the event.

“It's very, I don't know, calming,” Bourque said of running through the rows of trees. “There's a light at the end of the tunnel… when the leaves are on.”

However, Bourque says as the trees go, so does the poplar run.

Change is evident; cows now graze where trees once stood.

“This is the only run like this in Washington and Oregon that I know of,” Bruce Watkins said. He was accompanied by his two grandchildren. “I tell my friends… if they're going to do one run in this region, do this run… It’s beautiful.”

Bourque said registration doubled this year, from 600 to more than 1,200 participants, a final testament to the “Oregon wonder.”

“I was told that this was the last year,” Heidi Wickenhagen said. “It's been a dream come true, and it's one of my bucket list runs.”

Wickenhagen, who was joined by her two longtime friends, made sure to take plenty of pictures to remember the moment.

“You get this feeling when you’re in here,” she said about the trees. “It's going to be sad to see them go.”

The tree farm itself has 20 employees, along with another 50 to 60 contractors. Rice said they were not actively marketing the property, but were approached about selling the land.

The total property sale closed for more than $65 million.

Bourque says there are discussions of a running event next year, however, it won’t feature poplar trees.


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