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Writer shakes off winter with walk in the woods

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Hoyt Arboretum, a 'living museum,' sits just east of Beaverton.

COURTESY: HOYT ARBORETUM - Hoyt Arboretum has 12 miles of trails to explore, and it'll host guided tours for Arbor Month in April — including Magnolia and Spring Blossom tours.For those who don't live nearby, it might be easy to forget about Hoyt Arboretum, Portland's "museum of living trees."

The 189-acre forested area often is overshadowed by the more touristy destinations in its Washington Park home in Northwest Portland, such as the Oregon Zoo and International Rose Test Garden, which see millions more visitors annually than Hoyt's modest 350,000.

But don't be fooled, the winding trails and a collection of some 6,000 specimens from around the world are sights for sore eyes. And with springtime finally on the horizon, Portlanders might consider a visit, if only to shake off the winter lethargy.

Sure, rain continues to blanket the City of Roses, at times making the idea of an outdoor visit seem unappealing until summer, but a rain jacket, boots and an openness to a bit of drizzle will open the door to many opportunities to discover nature and some wildlife along 12 miles of trails.

On a recent visit to the park, the rain came down in spurts, but the outing was an opportunity to stretch the legs and observe some of the park's color that has emerged back into the landscape, including newly blooming purple and white hellebore flowers visible in the Winter Garden.

But some debris from the heavy rain, snow and wind that tormented Portland during January is still on the trails.

"We've had to remove about 40 to 50 trees due to storm damage. And luckily now that spring is starting, we're going to start replanting," says Vinny Parisi, who manages the arboretum's plant database. Last weekend, area Boy Scouts replanted crabapples in front of the Vietnam veterans memorial, where pears and plums also were damaged by ice.

COURTESY: HOYT ARBORETUM - Tours are led by the likes of curator Martin Nicholson. Volunteer guides are needed for spring and summer.A particularly fun part of a stroll through the arboretum is being able to figure out exactly what plants and trees you're looking at. Small placards are placed in proximity to identify them. But for those who still have a question, all plant species in the arboretum are recorded in a database, and folks could simply ask employees at the Visitor Center.

As spring approaches, folks should keep an eye on upcoming activities, especially surrounding April's bloom time.

"Coming up in the springtime, a lot of folks are going to be looking for what's going to be happening in our deciduous collection, as the green leaves come back and the flowering trees come back," says Becky Schreiber, operations and volunteer coordinator at Hoyt Arboretum.

She points to the arboretum's nationally recognized magnolia collection, which will start to bloom in April and can be observed on a namesake trail just east of the Visitor Center.

"It's one of the best magnolia species collections in the Northwest, for sure," Schreiber says.

And farther south of that, folks can view the park's maple collection along the Hawthorn Trail.

During spring, Parisi says, some of the maples will "leaf out" and some will flower, even if maples are mostly thought of during the fall.

However, he says, "The main draw right now is the texture of the bark and color."

When asked what he recommends to folks who may have been to Hoyt before, Parisi says it's "kind of tricky."

"It kind of depends on what they're into. Personally, I'm a big fan of redwoods," Parisi says. "I'm originally from northern California, so it's kind of a taste of home."

COURTESY: HOYT ARBORETUM - It's a scenic view from Hoyt Arboretum in Washington Park. It's a pleasant place to visit in the spring.To observe the arboretum's redwoods, he suggests taking a short loop through the Fir Trail, west of the Visitor Center, and then popping down into the redwood area. There, visitors can view the massive trees from a deck and easily loop back up to the center.

Parisi notes that the arboretum was one of the first to receive dawn redwood seeds in 1948, and one of those went on to flower and fruit, making Portland sort of famous for having the first dawn redwood to set seed in 2 million years. It's now an Oregon Heritage tree.

Having worked at the park for several years, there's not a lot of areas Parisi doesn't know, but he still likes to find spots he doesn't go to very often. Lately, he's enjoyed the area of the arboretum in the northwestern portion of the park dedicated to pine trees. There, a big restoration project is underway.

He says the area is "starting to look more like it did in the 1970s." The pines lost some of their lushness when growing conditions suffered in more recent decades. They've received grant money to restore the pines in phases.

Whatever portions of the area hikers trek, there's plenty to look at, especially as spring progresses. Just keep an eye out.

"Pacific Northwest signs of spring — you'll see them all over the place," Schreiber says.