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.

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