This past Friday, I drove out with Professor Aaron Wirsing to visit and tour the Olympic Natural Resources Center (ONRC) in Forks, Wash. My goal was to learn more about the center and spotlight some of its facilities for research and education within the School of Environmental and Forest Sciences (SEFS). Professor Wirsing was on hand to shadow the “ESRM 351: Wildlife Research Techniques” class, which Professor Steve West was leading out to spend two days and nights conducting field research on the Olympic Peninsula—using ONRC as the perfect staging ground for lodging, dining, frog hunts, bird walks, newt and salamander searches, stream surveys and a range of other hands-on activities.
It takes about 3.5 hours to reach ONRC from the Seattle campus, depending on your luck with timing the Kingston ferry. When we arrived, the rain was lashing, so we quickly ducked indoors and met our extremely welcoming hosts: Ellen Matheny, education and outreach director; Theresa Santman, manager of program operations, and Deric Kettel, who’s overseen general maintenance of ONRC since its first days in the mid-1990s.
They walked us through ONRC’s incredibly versatile facility, which features a host of lab and conference spaces, a library, social and dining hall with an indoor/outdoor fireplace, dormitories and larger apartments (brimming with ESRM students later that evening), classroom space for distance learning, and even a two-mile walking trail around the property, which locals in Forks use regularly—and who are sure to call in for help whenever there’s a tree or other blockage across the trail!
Depending on the type of event or activity, ONRC provides terrific space for conferences and other professional gatherings; day and overnight trips for class field study; graduate students looking for space to conduct or complete research projects; staging grounds for other projects and meetings; even social events (weddings and reunions are fairly common). The setting is a small field atop a forested hill overlooking Forks and the surrounding area. Tall hemlocks ring the clearing, which is a popular elk grazing ground, and even with the rain and typical cloud cover, huge windows keep the inside feeling bright and cozy. We left excited thinking about more ways we could integrate SEFS classes and research opportunities at ONRC.