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.”
Shooting for Gold
When Kate Bonn takes aim at a clay target, she must be sharp, focused and right on target.
The Portland State University student is paving the road with long hours and endless practice to reach her lifelong goal of earning Olympic Gold.
Despite blistering summer conditions, she will break 600 hundred clay targets during a daily practice session at the Hillsboro Trap and Skeet Club.
For Kate, shot gunning is second nature and success is measured when hundreds of the small speedy targets are broken into pieces.
“She’s intense and methodical about everything,” noted Jay Waldron, a trap shooting coach. He added, “That doesn’t happen in 10 shots or 100 shots, but after thousands and thousands which takes years of practice.”
It’s a certain tenacity that has driven the 23 year old Oregon woman to be among the best in the country. In fact, she is a current U.S. National Trap Champion.
Kate’s been at it since a young teen. Coach Waldron said he has no doubt “that her commitment to the sport will drive her to the next level.”
Coach Jay Waldron should know what it takes too – he’s a former Olympian who shined in the 1992 Olympic Games held in Barcelona, Spain.
Now he’s a successful coach who is introducing shooting sports to Oregon’s high school students. He said it takes someone special to shoot for Olympic Gold.
“I like to tell young people that it takes ten thousand hours of training, figure 5 to 6 years, to become a US National Champion. Add another 3-4 years to reach the international level of competition. That means constant work – not just coming out to have fun and shoot. You must work hard on your game all of the time.”
David Senter is President of International Shooting Sports of Oregon and he is proud of the state’s only Olympic trap site at the Hillsboro site.
The centerpiece of the trap range is below ground in a long concrete bunker where 15-voice activated, computer controlled throwing machines are at the ready – each machine holds 325 targets.
“The computer knows how many people (up to five shooters at a time) are shooting up above and how many targets they’ve shot at. Plus, it knows how many targets have been thrown so everyone gets a fair and equal distribution.”
Senter says Oregon has a long tradition with shooting sports; especially when it comes to ODFW’s Hunter Education classes that get youngsters on the right path with proper firearm handling and safety procedures.
In addition, ODFW offers the unique “Becoming an Outdoors Woman” classes that include shooting sports as a part of the annual menu of varied activities.
Women who are curious about shot gunning get an introductory lesson through the BOW hunting program that’s followed by a field hunt that teaches more about the outdoor experience and shotgun safety.
Senter would like to see more people – especially youngsters - consider shooting sports like trap and skeet. He added that Oregon is home to scores of trap and skeet shooting clubs that provide instruction and the basics to get you started.
“It’s like video games on steroids,” noted the longtime shooting instructor. “It’s fast, targets are breaking, lots of activity and that’s right up their alley. They love that kind of stuff.”
Senter has coached Bonn and currently coaches 13-year-old Micah Norman from Oregon City. She started shot gunning just a year ago and said she has a blast each time she steps on the range.
“Everything’s fun,” noted Norman. “When I come out here to practice or travel to compete – it’s exciting to watch the target break – that’s the absolute best.”
Kate Bonn knows it’s a long road to reach the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, but she’s determined and dedicated and said the journey is part of the prize.
“I enjoy the competition and the intensity of it all. While many might not call it fun, I do and these next four years are exciting to think about. I’m going to make the Olympics a real possibility.”
Folks who play outdoors are always on the lookout for new and innovative ways to enjoy their recreation and that’s certainly true for those who cast lures or baits to catch big fish aboard 14-foot long fishing kayaks.
There’s no way you’d ever call Mark Veary’s fishing boat a ‘heavy weight;’After all, it weighs a mere fifty pounds!
Yet Veary and his fishing partner, Brian Steves (both are members of Northwest Kayak Anglers) agreed that their “fishing kayaks” have opened up Oregon’s waterways for exploration like never before; including popular places like Henry Hagg Lake in Washington County.
“There was always a spot ‘somewhere over there’ that I wanted to get to,” said Veary. “Places just out of reach and then I saw one of these on the water and that was it! It looked so easy and so mobile and I knew I had to have one.”
And so he bought his first kayak over 10 years ago years ago and he has been exploring Oregon’s waterways ever since.
Brian added that the watercrafts are affordable, easy to operate and fishing kayaks are a good fit for his family members.
“I also like the stealth approach to my sport – you can be so quiet – especially paddling on calm water,” noted Steves. “It’s amazing because the fish will often just sit there and look up at you.”
Whether backwater sloughs, ponds, lakes or the big blue wild Pacific Ocean, the compact, smooth sided fishing kayaks have allowed more anglers to paddle into more places and catch more fish species too.
“These boats showed up in Oregon about three years ago,” added Veary. “They’ve grown in popularity and now I regularly see kayak anglers on lakes like Hagg Lake.”
The boats began as scuba dive platforms back in the 70’s. They are wide and lightweight and the stable boats allowed divers to carry heavy air tanks topside while they explored the water below.
Now, more modern “fishing kayaks” have seats molded into their designs so anglers can sit on top of the craft – rather than down inside, (like a traditional sea kayak,) and there’s plentiful open space that allows for storage of equipment, fishing tackle and gear.
Local kayak fisherman Ron Stauber noted that the old adage, ‘necessity is the mother of a invention; is particularly true for kayak fishermen: “I fish in the ocean a lot and need storage that’s handy, waterproof and secure. I am always on the lookout for gear that I can adapt to my needs. That’s a fun part of kayak fishing too.”
Longtime kayaker Andrew Insigna agreed and added, “I wanted to try a new fishing challenge and also get some exercise. What I like is that I can launch my boat anywhere, I don’t need gas for a motor and even if I don’t catch fish I can tell people that I enjoyed an evening of paddling my kayak.”
Jeff Anderson was drawn to the sport for many of the same reasons and noted that that biggest adjustment is the need for detailed pre-planning and on-board organization, especially when it comes to water safety:
“Safety is much, much more apparent in these small boats. You are right on the water, so even though the boats are extremely stable, you do plan and expect to go swimming at some point. Plus, I fish year round, so during the colder months I wear fleece underneath my dry suit.”
Everything has a place on Anderson’s boat too; all of his equipment is within easy reach and he even tethers his fishing rods to the boat in case they go overboard.
He said with a laugh that he has learned many lessons the hard way and that there are “more than a couple rods on the bottom” of his favorite fishing areas.
“Kayaks really put a lot more adventure into fishing,” said Anderson. “You are right on the water surface and it’s this ‘old man and the sea’ kind of feeling that lifts the spirit.”
Veary carries a hand held vhf radio for communication and he noted that anglers must have a signaling device with them - like a whistle – at all times.
In addition, his boat is checked annually so to be certified ‘clean of invasive species’ and he always wears his life vest.
“The most important thing is to be aware of your surroundings because there are many power boats out in the summer months and all it takes is a momentary lapse of judgment and you are over the side of your kayak.”
Mark is a big believer in ‘being seen’ on the water, so his boat sports a six foot tall mast with a red safety flag attached, just like cyclists might install on their bikes.
“That gives more visibility and helps others to see me – even from a distance.”
Veary is a big proponent for kayak fishing and wants others to share his passion for the recreation too:
“Fishing is such an intimate experience aboard the kayak…and I think that makes catching a fish more enjoyable - plus, you don’t have a big outboard motor in the back of the boat. You did it under your own paddling power.”
Flying M Ranch
The sun’s out and the weather’s warm and summer’s in full swing, so make time to head for the hills to enjoy forested adventure with folks who know all about western hospitality.
Grant McOmie takes us into Oregon’s coast range mountains to sit tall in the saddle and enjoy unique perspective on a summer horseback ride at the Flying M Ranch.
They come from all over and they waste little time to get to the Flying M Ranch each Sunday morning in Yamhill County.
The ranch’s 100-yard air strip is a perfect fit for short, fast take offs and landings. Pilot Doug Jackson said small aircraft fly in from all over Oregon just for the weekly morning gathering:
“Just look at it – you could be in remote eastern Oregon – it’s so isolated, tucked up into this mountain valley and yet we’re just minutes from town. We love this place and the people who run it – it’s a great time.”
The Flying M Ranch owner, operator and chief cook, Barbara Mitchell, has been in the kitchen, hard at work since 5am – busy baking and cooking up a storm.
She feeds the hungry folks who travel by air or by land to her family-owned horse ranch:
“I do breakfast – only on Sunday mornings – from 8 to 9 o’clock and by reservation. The fellas can land right across the way, walk over, sit down and have a complete breakfast of several eggs dishes, potatoes, sausage and bacon and plenty more – and if you go away hungry, it’s your own fault.”
The Flying M Ranch House has served up down home comfort for decades. In fact, the ranch house is an old CCC headquarters building that housed the boys who worked in the local woods back in the 1930’s.
Today – in addition to a dining area, it’s a bed and breakfast:“We’ve just three rooms and it’s not ritzy, like the B&B’s in town, added Mitchell. ”We tell everyone that we live on a gravel road and it’s in the woods, but still they come for the peace and solitude.”
The Mitchell family’s roots reach back a century when Barbara’s husband’s (Bryce Mitchell) parents settled in the area.
“His Mom was a school teacher and his Dad was a photographer/logger,” said Barbara. ‘So, one, two – five generations have lived on this property. I am very fortunate to have all my family so close.”
The Mitchell’s have been in the hospitality business since 1971 when the ranch started trail rides across their forestland.
Today, her grand-daughter Jessica Reber, plus a small army of sisters and cousins - hold on to the reins of the daily trail rides:
“I grew up out here, so I’ve done a lot of horseback riding in the mountains,” said the enthusiastic Reber. “I know the surrounding country like the back of my hand.”
There are more than thirty horses in the Flying M’s herd and each horse is matched with the skill level of the riders who show up to enjoy an hour, two hour or daylong adventure.
Jessica said that beginners are especially welcome, “No experience is needed and we’ll show you how to do it all.”
There are countless trails to ride along the eastern flanks of the coast range hillsides that rise to the top of Trask Mountain.
During the heat of summer, riders can stay along the banks of the nearby North Fork Yamhill River that meanders through the Mitchell property.
It’s cool and refreshing for riders and horses alike.
“There are so many trails,” added Reber. “Something for everyone and I enjoy taking people on their first horseback ride ever. Oregon is so beautiful and each season offers a different look and feel as you ride through the forest. It really is special.”
The Flying Mm’s ‘Ranch House Breakfast’ is special too and if you go – bring an appetite. It occurs each Sunday and reservations are required.
Trail riding is open year round, seven days a week and you can join a guided tour by calling ahead.