Thursday, April 23, 2015

A Sweet Spring Hike

Tucked off the beaten path deep in the Oregon Coast Range is a beautiful series of small waterfalls. Surprisingly few hikers venture off of Highway 126 to find this family-friendly path. Spring is the best time to discover Sweet Creek; the waterfalls are filled with seasonal rain and wildflowers ornament the trailside. Kids love the catwalks that cling to streamside cliffs, making it possible to follow the creek bank. There is some disagreement as to the total number of falls; it depends on what is considered a waterfall. The steep creekbed and numerous cascades confuse the facts, but counts range from ten falls up to nearly twenty.

This is, in fact, a pretty sweet creek, but it is actually named for the Sweet family who settled here in the 1800s. This wet, remote little valley, prone to flooding and far from civilization, must have been a challenging place to farm. Sweet Creek flows into the Siuslaw River, though, which was the highway of the time, and ample rainfall would have grown vigorous crops. Small farms still dot the area, but Sweet Creek is now owned by the Forest Service.

To find the trailhead, drive 15 miles east of Florence or 46 miles west of Eugene to Mapleton. Go over the bridge and turn west (right) on Sweet Creek Road. Follow this small, paved road for about ten miles and turn right into
the parking lot for the Homestead Trail. A short section of this path is fairly accessible and makes for a lovely creekside pause. Then the trail begins in earnest, although it never becomes steep or difficult. Keep children in view; the creek is tempting but flows quickly. Small dogs may need to be carried on the catwalks, as their little paws can catch in the decking. Watch alongside the path for a wide variety of ferns and wildflowers. After a little over a mile, this trail ends at a final waterfall; return the way you came. Since this is such a short hike, be sure to bring your camera and linger at the many viewpoints. It seems impossible to take a bad photo here.

The Forest Service provides some trail information on this link. If you wish to combine this hike with a trip to the coast, be sure to check out the main Siuslaw National Forest site for campgrounds and activities. Florence is a fun town to visit any time of the year, and Dunes City (just south of town) offers sand-based entertainment in the form of OHV rentals and sand boards. Fishing, hiking, and boating are also popular in the Florence area, and it will doubtless appear in many future postings on this site.

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Minto-Brown Island Park: A Spring Warm-Up

Although this park covers nearly 900 acres, don't expect to be alone here. Wedged into South Salem within easy earshot of the nearby landfill, Minto-Brown Island Park is a farm, a wildlife refuge, and a public park. It is not, however, an island.

When "Whiskey" Brown and John Minto settled here in the mid-1800s, there were, in fact, two islands. The Willamette is an energetic force, however, and years of flooding have left the configuration we see today. An oxbow, a slough, wetlands, and several small ponds hint at old riverbeds abandoned by the busy river.

Occasional flooding brings deposits of nutritious silt and also makes building here somewhat
impractical. As a result, Brown's and Minto's islands are farmed to some degree even today. At the same time, much of the land is being returned to its natural state, creating habitat for a variety of animals and birds. Ducks and geese paddle the waterways, songbirds add their voices to the sounds of nearby industry and red-tailed hawks patrol the sky.

While this park may not be a destination in itself, it's a great stop when you are in Salem. Miles of various kinds of trails wind through fields and forest. There are wide, paved pathways, farm roads, dirt tracks, and brushy paths that look as if they were made by muskrats. Bicycles are perfect for exploring the park from end to end, and the paved areas invite wheelchair users to explore the riverbank. The oxbow and slough hold warmwater fish and there is even an off-leash dog park.

Visiting the Park
First, visit this website to download a map and learn about the area. To find the park, go south on Commercial Street SE all the way to Owens and turn right. Owens soon curves and becomes River Road. Drive beside the train tracks and slough to a stoplight, where a right turn takes you onto Minto Island Road.

The first parking lot, on your right, has a kiosk explaining the park. The trails here lead near the slough to the northeastern part of the park. Across the road is a small duck pond. The second lot is on your left, next to the dog park. Across the road find an old farm road which makes a pleasant stroll through the fields. The third lot has a play structure and a picnic shelter and is close to the Willamette. Follow the paved trail, which turns right and passes along the riverbank; a left turn here becomes a dirt path that is popular with bicyclists. Picnic tables, portable toilets, and helpful signage are plentiful in this family-friendly park.

So if you're planning to be in Salem, take your bicycle, or your hiking boots, or a fishing pole. Take some kids or a dog. Bring binoculars and a picnic, and definitely remember your camera.

Words and pictures by Sally. Edited by Sally and Austen.