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Bike, play and picnic along the Luckiamute River | Grant's Getaways

In Polk County, stress-free outdoor fun abounds with recreation options for people of all athletic abilities and skill levels.

FALLS CITY, Ore. — Some of the best places in Oregon are often as close as our own backyards; sometimes hiding in plain sight! We visit a nearby Oregon county blessed with stress-free fun through outdoor recreation with a play area for mountain bikes, a stunning waterfall you may have missed and a state parkland for wildlife along Polk County’s Luckiamute River.

The Luckiamute River cuts a beeline through eastern flanks of the Oregon Coast Range before it falls in an ear-shattering moment at Falls City.

Less than three miles away, another sort of fall happens when mountain bikers gather, ride and catch big air across a little piece of heaven called Black Rock Mountain.

The volunteer organization that makes it all work is called the Black Rock Mountain Bike Association or BRMBA for short.

Longtime rider and BRMBA member Rich Bontrager noted that it all started with a simple dream: “I think we all need to help get people off the couch and out in the forest … to see that there’s other stuff out here than the city pavement or a computer game – it’s that sort of thing that draws folks – something new and different and exciting.”

Credit: Grant McOmie/Jeff Kastner

BRMBA member Todd Glascow, also a longtime rider, said that “feature” ideas are really born of the experiences that riders have as they take on trails across the United States.

“Oh yes – we ride other areas, see other things and incorporate them into our own ideas and then take a spin on it. While some material is bought and some donated, a good majority of the wood that we use is fallen timber found in the forest.”

Credit: Grant McOmie/Jeff Kastner

Whether catching big air or enjoying the freedom that comes from speeding down a forest trail on two wheels, the riders agree that there’s something for every level of experience at Black Rock Mountain.

“You’re out here in the trees and you’re away from everything else,” noted Glascow. “You’re far away from the daily grind. You can have a stressful day or stressful week and you come out here and ride a bike – it’s all gone!”

Credit: Grant McOmie/Jeff Kastner

Polk County offers more stress-free zones as the Luckiamute River flows from eastern flanks of the coast range into the Willamette Valley.

In fact, when you pull in to Oregon’s very first state park called Sarah Helmick, located off Oregon State Highway 99, you will discover a hidden gem.

“Oh yes – it really is a hidden gem,” said Oregon State Parks, Bryan Nielsen. “It’s off the beaten path for sure, but the folks who’ve been coming here for decades like it that way.”

It’s an oasis of a parkland that dates to 1922 when the Helmick family donated the land for future generations.

“Back in the 50’s, camping really took off,” said Nielsen. “Motor homes were invented; trailers were improving as technology was changing. The economy was improving, and people had more free time. Parks like Sarah Helmick really took off and were valued for their peace and quiet.”

Credit: Grant McOmie/Jeff Kastner

The park sprawls across 40 acres with plentiful picnic sites and play-spaces under the shady limbs of giant oak and maple trees.

“It’s great place to get out and stretch the legs,” added Nielsen. “Just to enjoy a beautiful parkland and get away from the hustle and bustle of everyday life.”

Credit: Grant McOmie/Jeff Kastner

Less than 20 minutes east, the Luckiamute River slows to meander its way to meet the Willamette River on a course through a unique state park.

Luckiamute Landing State Natural Area is parkland without rental cabins, trailer hook-ups or play areas for the kids.

It is a park where they’re turning the clock back to help restore wildlife habitat.

Credit: Grant McOmie/Jeff Kastner

Steve DeGoey with Oregon State Parks explained that the goal is to enhance nearly 1,000 acres for wildlife including varied bird life and even endangered western pond turtles. It’s a day-use parkland that invites hikers or river paddlers and it is waiting for you to explore anytime.

“We’ve planted about 440,000 shrubs and trees since 2011, so be sure to bring your binoculars when you come to visit. We’ve several miles of hiking trails too! We have a variety of birds and in spring the wildflowers bloom too. Plus, two ponds that are home to western pond turtles that like to warm themselves on the logs. They can be a shy animal so be quiet and walk softly or they quickly jump into the water.”

Credit: Grant McOmie/Jeff Kastner

Be sure to follow my Oregon adventures via the new Grant’s Getaways Podcast: Each segment is a story-telling session where I relate behind the scenes stories from four decades of travel and television reporting.

You can also learn more about many of my favorite Oregon travels and adventures in the Grant’s Getaways book series, including:

"Grants Getaways I," Photography by Steve Terrill

"Grant's Getaways II," Photography by Steve Terrill

Grant’s Getaways: 101 Oregon Adventures,” Photography by Jeff Kastner

Grant’s Getaways: Guide to Wildlife Watching in Oregon,” Photography by Jeff Kastner

Grant’s Getaways: Oregon Adventures with the Kids,” Photography by Jeff Kastner

The collection offers hundreds of outdoor activities across Oregon and promises to engage a kid of any age.

My next book, “Grant’s Getaways: Another 101 Oregon Adventures” will be published in November.

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