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Nuts about running? There’s a new Track Town attraction for you

Blankenship and Stein
Karen Richards
Ben Blankenship with Carolyn Stein at the Fast Forest. Stein is the president of Endless Mileage, and helped set up the nonprofit.

Track Town has a new attraction in the Eugene-Springfield area. There's no need to sprint to the Fast Forest at Dorris Ranch, it'll be there for quite a while.

Ben Blankenship is a Eugene-based distance runner who ran in the 2016 Olympics. As a professional athlete, he saw and appreciated the outdoors all over the world. He told KLCC he wanted to find a public space where he could make the connection tangible. “I felt like this was a very small contribution I could do for the climate," he said, "and merge together athletes and athletics with environment.”

At Dorris Ranch, 692 tagged hazelnut seedlings represent each American man who’s broken 4 minutes in the mile, and each woman who’s broken 4:30. The project needed an accessible public space, available in perpetuity. The partnership with Willamalane was ideal. “We’re three miles from Hayward Field," said Blankenship. "They needed trees planted to fight the blight, and here we are.”

The exhibit is just past the park’s main entrance. A second grove extends to the west beyond the first. The trees closest to the entrance represent the first people to break the barriers and they’re laid out like a timeline.

The orchard makes physical accomplishments visible in several ways. For example, the first woman, Francie Larrieu, doesn’t appear until 1975, nearly two decades, and nine orchard rows, after the first man. Blankenship said the gap points out the fact that for so many years, women didn’t have opportunities to compete.

New markers will be added as more athletes break the barriers, and when the trees mature, hazelnuts will be harvested and sold. As Blankenship says, they’ll be “fast filberts.”

To learn more about Blankenship’s Endless Mileage nonprofit, and see an interactive map of the Fast Forest, visit the website here.

Pre's tree
Karen Richards
Pre's Rock, meet Pre's Tree

Karen Richards has been a KLCC reporter since the fall of 2012.