AFOOT AND AFLOAT ON THE TUALATIN RIVER
Fall colors are a sure sign of the fast-changing seasons and Grant McOmie explores a fine place to enjoy the show.
He takes us afoot and afloat to explore the wonder of nature along the Tualatin River.
Brian Wegener, the Watershed Watch co-ordinator for Tualatin RiverKeepepers, said that canoe paddling “puts him in touch with his neighborhood.”
“The Tualatin is a great place for beginners,” noted the longtime conservationist, because most of the year there is little or no current. There’s not much traffic on the river either and as you can see, at this time of year, it is carpeted with the golden leaves of the ash trees that fall on the river.”
The Tualatin River is born high in the Oregon coast range and it flows nearly a hundred miles through the heart of fast-growing Washington County on the western edge of the Portland Metro area.
“The river drops a foot and a half over a thirty mile reach,” added Wegener.
“So, there’s no gradient to speak of – and it’s a great place for blue herons, green herons, bald eagles and ospreys.”
Wegner and the small party of friends who joined our paddle trip near Sherwood, Oregon are all members of the Tualatin Riverkeepers.
The organization centers its activities on recreation and protection of the watershed.
It is a grass roots conservation organization that puts the paddles of their members into action to help the river.
For example, on a recent fall afternoon, scores of volunteers gathered and walked the talk of caring for the stream. They gave up their time to pickup up boatloads of trash from the river’s shoreline.
“Garbage of all kinds,” noted Wegener. “Lawnmowers, garbage bags, plastic, all sorts of stuff - even a 30-year-old car chassis.”
Tarri Christopher, a longtime TRK member, added “This is the source of our drinking water, so it’s important for us to keep it clean. We take a recreational aspect and we turn it into an educational component too.”
Paul Whitney, another longtime Riverkeeper, agreed with the conservation aspect of their group and added that paddling puts his mind at ease as the fall colors come into their own.
“My blood pressure drops and I can feel the calmness with each paddle stroke. I consider it undiscovered wilderness that most people in the Portland area aren’t aware of…maybe you don’t get the diversity of colors that you do in New England – but it’s certainly a show of yellows and oranges.”
The most common tree along the river is Oregon Ash and when they drop their leaves, it’s as if a bright yellow carpet had been laid down across the water’s surface. It is really beautiful!
Not only on the river, but ashore at the Tualatin River National Wildlife Refuge where many people stop in at this time of year to gaze across more than a thousand acres of protected landscape near Sherwood, Oregon.
“It’s a gem and it’s an unusual situation where people can take a bus and go to a wildlife refuge, noted longtime paddler and Metro Councilor, Carl Hosticka. “When you get out on this river, you see you’re out in nature, but you go only a mile in any direction and there’s the city and people and development.”
It’s a remarkable contrast and the sort of place that may leave you wondering, ‘Why haven’t I been here before?’
The refuge was established in 1992 and it opened to the public in 2007.
It is vast for an urban wildlife refuge at more than a thousand acres.
The site is best enjoyed on the “Refuge Trail:” a mile long, wheelchair accessible ribbon of wonders that skirts the wetland’s perimeter and follows the river too.
There are plenty of stops along the way including a river overlook where you may spy waterfowl during the fall and winter seasons.
It is a fine place to escape the city rush for the rush of wings.
Christopher noted that most people who live in Washington County, one of the state’s most populous counties, don’t even know about the river that they live near.
“And that’s okay because we love to introduce folks to it. The refuge offers that opportunity and the Riverkeepers really encourage people to visit it.”
Wegener added that he and other members (there are nearly 1,000 Tualatin Riverkeeper members) are pushing hard for more river access closer to the refuge so more people can explore – mile by mile – the river’s beauty and adventure.
“When you’re out on a day like this and it is so quiet, you can’t really see much human influence – it sure feels like what it must have been 200 years ago.”
A GOLDEN NUGGET IN EASTERN OREGON
Northeast Oregon’s Powder River is a small cool, quiet and refreshing stream, but not so long ago, it was a river under siege.
It’s a landscape where monstrous gold-dredging machines ravaged the river valley floor.
Square-bowed and built of steel and wood and iron, three giant dredges lifted and sifted the terrain, reaping a golden harvest worth $12 million during the peak of the depression era.
Today, it is a park that holds on to history and takes visitors aboard to see and touch the past at the Sumpter Valley Dredge State Heritage Area in Sumpter, Oregon.
I hope you will be as awestruck as I when you come face to face with the Sumpter dredge, whose massive boom bears seventy-two 1-ton buckets.
Rella Pfleeger-Brown is the Assistant Park Ranger and guides visitors aboard the dredge. She pointed out how the buckets moved like the chain links of a chainsaw, bored into the riverbank, and carried loose rock back into the dredge’s hulking interior.
“When you stroll into the heart of the dredge – it’s as big as a barn and filled with gears and belts, winches and pumps – where the rock passed through steel cylinders, separating rocks by size.”
Water and sluices separated the gold from the sediment and the spoils from this process were discharged behind the behemoth as it moved across the valley.
Nine tons of gold in nineteen years!
If you are lucky, you may meet some of the men who lived the history; like brothers Wes and Paul Dickison – they grew up in nearby Baker City.
In 1947, the two teens worked on the dredge for highest wages around: $1.35 an hour.
“OSHA would have shut this thing down the very first day they stepped on it,” noted Paul. “There were all kinds of hazards; cables, open gears that weren’t guarded. And if the power went out – watch out!”
Wes recalled that happened twice! When the electric power that ran the dredge failed and everything stopped on the night shift:
“We didn’t have lights,” said Paul. “We didn’t have nothing and it was the spookiest place you’d ever been in your life. All these pumps running, pipes running, water running, mud everywhere and boom - power went off and it was coal black. You’d hear a splash over here, splash over there – something there – real spooky!”
But the lure of golden profit (the dredge made more than 4 million dollars in profit) was strong and repairs were made quickly so operations could continue.
It’s the noise they remember most! The dredge operations were so loud you couldn’t talk, so a bell system was the only way to communicate.
Signals were written on the wall – long and short rings – that helped the three-men crew communicate across the massive floating machine.
Jerry Howard’s father was a winch-man in the 1930’s who operated the dredge from three stories up in the winch room.
He had a commanding view of the entire operation.
Inside the room, handles moved cables that moved the buckets down below that gouged out the ground.
“I can still hear the rocks hitting the tailings,” noted Howard. He recalled bringing lunch to his father and said it was a real boyhood adventure to go aboard the dredge.
“The digging of the bucket line was something – 72 buckets going round and round 24 hours a day. It dug up a lot of land.”
The Sumpter Dredge ravaged the Powder River Valley for miles around and all these decades later, the tailings undulate like snakes across the valley.
They are lasting reminders of a bygone era for sure, yet time has a way of healing the land: trees and other vegetation are slowly coming back along the river.
Ranger Rella Brown added that it remains an important Oregon story that she enjoys sharing with park visitors.
“The telling of Oregon history is an important mission for Oregon State Parks. By virtue of the dredge’s presence in the valley, many visitors ask those questions and then you can teach them about that time. It really does provide the opportunity to share that chapter of Oregon’s past – and it’s really fun – it’s really fun.”
TREE TO TREE ADVENTURE PARK
Grant McOmie takes us to a unique forest parkland where your views can feel a bit like a bird’s eye view to the woods.
It’s a point of view that will take your breath away: up to 60 feet off the ground!
It is found only at the new and unique Tree to Tree Aerial Adventure Park set in the foothills of the Oregon coast range in Western Washington County.
The 57-acre forested parkland is unlike anything you’ve ever experienced off the ground.
In fact, you might consider it a playground in the trees.
Marissa Doyle, co-manager of the of the new park, said, “You will feel like a kid again when going through this course. We have tunnels and bridges and Tarzan-like ropes…all sorts of fun stuff built for adults to play up in the trees.”
Instructor George Bidiman guides folks across the four different tree-to-tree courses – each course is progressively more challenging and he helps people find steady steps on a shaky trail or across a swinging, swaying wobbly way.
Bidiman said, “It is flat out freedom up in the air and probably the closest thing you can get to flying outside of an airplane.”
Each climber must wear a safety harness that connects with two lanyards that sport lobster-claw type clips that link you to thick wire cables.
Each cable can hold up to 10,000 pounds, so once you’re clipped in - you’re not going anywhere except across the aerial trail.
The new Tree-to-Tree Park is a family-owned business that is brainchild of Co-Owners and Managers, Doyle and Molly Beres.
Molly hopes that the park’s location (a short drive from Scoggins Valley Park and Henry Hagg Lake) will attract a following once they have discovered the park’s unique features.
“Portland is the best place for this sort of thing because there are so many outdoorsy people here. Everyone likes to be outside doing active things and extreme sports and this will fit in just fine.”
Doyle added, “People come to Hagg Lake to hike, to bike, to rent boats – to be outside and just enjoy nature. We’re an extension for those kinds of activities and yet we offer a unique experience outside of the normal fishing, boating and hiking activities that are that so popular at the lake.
Doyle added that the new business also offers a course for youngsters. The course offers the same elements as the adult version but it is much closer to the ground.
The course admission isn’t based on age – but on height – that is, with your arms extended overhead you must be able to reach 6 feet, 6 inches, to play on the full-sized course after you’ve passed the Basic Training Course.
If a youngster is unable to reach 6’, 6” but can reach at least 5’ with their arms extended, he or she can play on the smaller course.
The park’s many course features are called “elements” and range from simple swaying bridges to horizontal rock walls and tunnels that you must climb across or climb through so to continue the course.
Many participants agreed that the climbing experience felt safe despite the 50-foot elevation and that it is an experience full of surprises:
First timer Leah Perkins noted, “I was worried at first that I’d be a little too old and out of shape to make it – but I must say that I felt like I really got something done out here – I made it through and didn’t fall once.”
Perkins’s friend, Mary Higley, noted that each element’s unique, challenging and left her with a distinct feeling of accomplishment:
“A couple of times I had my feet get out in front of me a little bit, so I really had to use my arm strength to get back up – plus, the sway of the platforms can be a little frightening, but I’d definitely do it again. It was a lot of fun.”
Instructor Bidiman added that everyone who has completed the course since it opened this spring has left with a huge smile: “Everyone’s having a great time – they come for the challenge but also the fun of feeling like a kid again and it doesn’t get any better than that.”
That feeling never lets up on the course either – it’s surpassed only by the thrilling payoff that waits for each climber at the end.
“We end every course with a zip line and so it’s the payoff for your hard work because everybody loves a zip,” noted a smiling Beres.
“Our whole purpose is to be outdoors, enjoy nature and enjoy being in Oregon – just to love where you are – it’s the best!”
MUSHROOM HUNTING AND COOKING
Longtime chef and local restaurateur and all around Oregon adventurer, Leather Storrs, figures it’s simple: if you want to harvest wild mushrooms, learn their habitat.
In the Tillamook State Forest – where sun and shadow dance through the towering Doug fir trees while Storrs’ well-trained eyes are fixed down close to the ground where there’s a culinary reward.
“Ohhh, there we are – chanty number one – it’s always good to get off the dime early,” exclaimed Storrs with a hearty laugh.
Chanterelles have a golden-orange hue and their chalice shape make them hard to spot – but their allure is a woodsy flavor that’s hard to resist.
Since 1999, the gorgeous fungi have been Oregon’s official State Mushroom.
“As soon as you see the first one,” noted Storrs. “There is this chanterella-vision that allows you to see that unique sort of peachy-orange color, but with the weather change and the alder leaves turning yellow on the ground it’s getting trickier.”
Chanterelles are not the only mushrooms in the forest. Storrs, an experienced mushroom hunter said that there are dozens of other mushrooms that grow here and most are none too friendly to people and many are downright dangerous.
“When you’re doing it without knowledge and confirmation, there’s no reason to take any chances. I learned in culinary school an old saying:‘There are old mycologists and there are bold mycologists, but there are no old, bold mycologists.’
Leather Storrs may not be an old, bold mycologist, but he is one of Portland’s finest chefs.
His restaurant, the “Noble Rot,” set in NE Portland, is where Storrs has mastered the art of cooking a wild chanterelle recipe that can be with many other foods.
He cleaned an approximately one pound of chanterelles – (he never washes them in water but prefers to clean them off with a soft rag or brush) and he also prefers smaller, button-sized mushrooms.
Storrs then proceeded to slice them lengthwise, (he likes to preserve their overall shape and size as much as possible.)
Approximately one pound of the wild chanterelles hit an oiled (olive oil) pan with a “bounce, sizzle and snap.”
“Chanterelles are one of those things the really depend upon a hot pan,” added Storrs.”
While the mushrooms cooked, Storrs finely diced one large shallot.
When the mushrooms were nearly done, in went the shallots and two chunks of butter. And more:
“I’ve some big beautiful parsley here that I will chop and add near the end of the cooking time – along with a small amount of lemon juice.”
Meanwhile, from out of the oven Storrs pulled a cracked egg that was nestled inside a rich, grainy bread – It was warm and toasty and called ‘Egg in a Hole.’ Soon, he smothered the dish in the richly cooked chanterelles.
“That’s one way to treat a chanterelle ragout,” noted Storrs. “Not only is this a dish of the place and seasonal, it’s also virtually free.
Storrs is a big believer that the meals that you contribute to are the most rewarding – that is, the ones connecting you and tie you to the source of your food. There’s something exciting and magical that comes about when you find it and prepare it and when you share it with friends and family – I don’t think it can get much better.”
The Oregon Department of Forestry allows you to harvest up to one gallon of wild mushrooms on state forestlands, but any more than that, you are considered a commercial picker and must buy the $100 permit at any state forestry office.
Storrs stressed critical safety points if you choose to head into the forest at this time of year – First, pick only mushrooms that you know are safe. If you don’t know go with someone who is experienced and does know or take a mushroom ID class. (He suggested the Cascade Mycological Society.)
Storrs also suggested that mushroom hunters who are in unfamiliar territory stay close to the road and never out of earshot of the road traffic.