News for those who live, work and play in the Santiam Canyon

OSU researchers scanning for secrets at Silver Falls

Oregon State University researchers spent a day last month taking 3D scans and pictures of historic structures at Silver Falls State Park.

The goal of the research was to use the scan data to create digital models of the structures, including the South Falls Lodge, the South Falls Nature Store and the Stone Kitchen Shelter. The models will be publicly available online after the project is completed, and the full high-resolution 3D data will be shared with the Oregon Parks and Recreation Department. 

In addition, the researchers said, 3D models also provide a way to increase accessibility of historic sites, making it possible to view and learn about these structures virtually.

The key drivers for the research were the deadly 2020 wildfires that wreaked such havoc in Oregon, said Todd Kesterson of Mill City. Kesterson is the project director and an OSU new media communications instructor. 

“I see this type of scanning as a proactive way to address potential loss of historic structures,” Kesterson said. “If we lose these structures, if there is any hope of rebuilding them to a high degree of accuracy, we need accurate 3-Dimensional data. The tools we used on this project are the best way to capture that information.”

The good news is that the Silver Falls buildings, which date to the 1930s, survived the fires. Buildings in the Jawbone Flats area of the Opal Creek Wilderness and at Breitenbush did not fare as well.

“Jawbone Flats was really the impetus for me to pursue the Silver Falls Park project,” Kesterson said. “Most of the historic structures at Jawbone Flats were destroyed. That was a very special place, as anyone who visited knows. On my last visit to Opal Creek, I was aware of the use of Lidar and photogrammetry as tools for heritage preservation. I just didn’t have the means to do so at the time. 

“After the fires, I started looking at other historic sites that are at risk of loss due to wildfires. Silver Falls State Park was at the top of my list given my familiarity with it, and since fires burned some park land in 2020. I became even more concerned after fires again reached the park’s borders last summer. So this project is a direct response to my personal experience in losing places I really loved.”

The risk of wildfire and other natural disasters encroaching on state parks and other historic sites around the state is likely to increase with climate change, the researchers said. By creating 3D models of these structures, the OSU team aims to preserve the legacy of these buildings in the event of future destruction.

Kesterson said the researchers might return to Silver Falls “to capture any missing data once we fully review the scans. That would involve one or two more trips at most.”

Then the real work begins.

“Processing the data to create 3-Dimensional models will occur over the next year,” he said. “We will produce two versions of the models. One version will be a very detailed ‘point cloud’ of the structures, consisting of thousands of data points captured down to millimeter accuracy through Lidar scanning. That will go to the park service for their archives. 

“Through photogrammetry we will create lower detail 3-Dimensional models with links to historic photos and other information will be posted online for public access.”

The team aims to complete this phase of the project by April 2025.

Kesterson praised the participation of Michael Olsen, professor of geomatics, and assistant professor Ezra Che, who monitored the lidar scanning and data processing conducted by graduate students in the school of Civil Engineering and Construction’s Geomatics department.

From an educational standpoint, this practical field experience will teach OSU students how to take accurate 3D scans and create digital models of physical structures.

Kesterson also said that his personal experience with the 2020 wildfires lent some urgency to the research.

“Like so many other people in the area, my wife and I evacuated Mill City with very little notice,” he said. “We ended up being alone on the road early in the morning. Seeing houses and forests burning on our way out of town, and later seeing the aftermath of burned forests and structures reminded me how quickly we can lose places that are very important to us. Priceless memories can’t be replaced, but many structures can be rebuilt. 3D scanning is a means of digitally protecting places before disaster hits.”

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