When you’ve visited a natural area for years with only vague certainty that the land is public, and you get word of change, of course you get concerned.
The Sandy River Delta was such a place of concern. Visited regularly but otherwise relatively unknown, the Delta, or “1000 Acres” was a gem. Easily overlooked at the West end of the Columbia Gorge with its floodplain-flat geography, the Delta offered solitude, easy hiking, grassy meadows, open views, forested groves, clean water, and abundant wildlife from fish, songbirds, raptors, deer, and coyote, all within a short drive from Portland.
Articles in the press foretold of changes; parking lots, art installations, restrictions on current visitors. Dog owners in particular feared the loss of one of the last remaining recreational venues. Other users had their concerns too, equestrians, hunters, birdwatchers all had misgivings as to what the changes might bring.
This scenario set the stage for the partnership that began to play out 5 years ago among a few regular users of the Delta and the Forest Service.
In October of 2005, knowing that the Delta was part of the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area, we arranged our first contact. Despite early skepticism, it quickly became clear that the Forest Service was a potential partner, not an adversary, in our goal to preserve recreational access.
A raucous public meeting in November of 2005 gave us the opportunity to explain to Forest Service staff the deep concerns among regular recreational users of the Delta. Soon after, at an on-site meeting, members of Oregon Equestrian Trails and a core group of dog owners approached each other realizing that joining together on behalf of all users was our best approach. Together, we continued to develop our dialog with the Forest Service, and found a staff willing and ready to work with us.
At the behest of the Forest Service, we began to organize into the non-profit organization we are today, the Friends of the Sandy River Delta, initiating a productive relationship now in its 5th year.
As we began regular meetings, we were introduced to the Confluence Project, the organization behind the Bird Blind installation at the Delta. We quickly came up to speed on the plans for limited development, (the parking lot, bird blind, and ADA compatible Confluence Trail), habitat restoration, and plans for the trail system.
Our collaboration grew, and so did our ability to help craft what the Delta has become. We initiated regular work parties removing barbed wire, clearing trailside brush, rehabilitating existing trails, establishing new trails, and doing trash sweeps. Behind the scenes we worked closely with both the Forest Service and the Confluence Project to establish policies for managing the tremendous increase in popularity, and to minimize conflicts between the diverse user groups.
Dog waste was clearly one of our first challenges. The “pack-it-in pack-it-out” policy appropriate in most Forest Service venues would probably not be successful with the multitude of dog walkers. After considering various options, we offered to place and manage a series of trailside trashcans. We assembled a dedicated team of volunteers to manage the cans, and the Forest Service provides dog-i-pot bags and assists with the final disposal.
Establishing the Boundary Trail was pivotal in demonstrating our working relationship. Designated as on-leash, the Confluence Trail at first defined the restricted wetlands and nesting area in the eastern section of the Delta. Constructed on one of the most popular trail loops, management of dogs would have proven difficult. We proposed an alternate route paralleling the Confluence trail along existing paths with minimal new trail construction. After input from Forest Service hydrologists, the trail was soon constructed and adopted. Continuing our effort to draw dog users from the Confluence Trail to the Boundary Trail, we recently rerouted the trailhead and laid stone to help mitigate the excess of standing water from this winter. Thanks to user donations, as well as material supplied by the Forest Service we were able to complete this work in February.
Another trail project proposed by our organization was the extension of the Meadow Trail. This new trail created a loop from the termination of the Boundary trail at the Bird Blind. Though the trail is in rough shape due to the rains and the recent restoration work, it provides a nice meander east before returning back to the west, eventually crossing the Confluence trail and returning to the Parking Lot. As with the Boundary Trail, this loop option helps draw traffic from the Confluence Trail to help in user management.
Of course, the Delta is still a work in progress. There will be lots of construction this summer with the removal of the dam at the east channel, and we will continually be working on how best to manage the multiple users to prevent conflicts. However, with the continuing partnership we’ve established with both the Forest Service, and the Confluence Project, we expect continued success in keeping the Delta a great place for a visit for all users.