Monday, January 19, 2015

Baskett Slough: A Winter Refuge

Oregonians who have driven Highway 22 from Highway 18 to Salem may remember Baskett Slough as Land of the Lousy Restroom. Beaconlike on its hillock overlooking a lovely plain, the vault toilet never failed to disappoint with its intense aroma and graffiti-scarred interior. Weary travelers could also avail themselves of the observation kiosk, where interpretive signs described bird species which might be visible to observers possessing x-ray vision.

The restroom has been removed, mourned only by the most desperate of bladders. The kiosk, however, remains. On a clear winter day, it is possible to observe Canada geese and other migratory species from this viewpoint. Or perhaps that's just specks on your sunglasses. It's hard to tell.

Visitors to the kiosk and late restroom may be disinclined to devote much of their day to Baskett Slough, but that would be a mistake. This wildlife refuge is not only peaceful and beautiful, it is accessible for everyone (a car makes an excellent observation blind when birds are accustomed to vehicle traffic). To reach the real Baskett Slough, take 99W north from Highway 22 or south from McMinnville. Turn west on Colville Road (see map). Colville is a decent gravel road that passes through the heart of the refuge. Don't be deterred by the signs warning of area closures; the road is open, as are the uplands and oak grove. Extensive closures of the bottom land are in place during the winter to allow migrating waterfowl a safe place to rest during their journey.

View from the platform
At a turning in the road, you will find a parking area and a much better restroom. There are also picnic tables and maps of the refuge. While many of the trails are closed in winter, the Rich Guadagno Memorial Trail and Viewing Platform, marked in pink on the map, are open year-round. To reach the platform, head uphill from the parking lot and go left at the Y. The trail here is wide and smooth, but it is a bit of a climb. Continue to the platform for a panoramic view of the valley, with ponds and marshes all around.

Return to the other arm of the Y to reach the treed hilltop. The trail here is narrower and a bit muddy in places as it ascends into the woods. Old oaks cradle snarls of mistletoe and deer wander nearby, unconcerned by human presence. Watch for hardy little songbirds in the brush and hawks hunting overhead. On the map, this loop trail is shaped like a lollipop with a piece of hair stuck to it; in reality, it turns into a maze of small trails once you enter the trees. It's easy enough to find your own route back to the main trail, though.

Once back at your car, continue on Colville Road to the bottom land. You will find a number of pullouts where you can watch waterfowl on either side of the road. Besides the Canada geese, expect to find coots, grebes, herons, egrets, and a wide variety of ducks. When you are ready to leave, continue on Colville, take a left at the intersection (Smithfield Road), and you will find  yourself at the junction with Highway 22.

There is no camping near the refuge, but it makes a pleasant stop along the way during the darkest days of the year. Bring binoculars, boots and raingear and spend a little time with the birds.

Photos in this post taken by Sally Gosen Case and edited by Austen M. Case

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