What’s in a name?

The Rendezvous:

Every year Peter and Pam celebrate the cold damp miserableness of Oregon’s winter. It’s the kind of sloppy coldness for which Oregonians hold an especially sodden place in their hearts. When I arrive at the rendezvous and park under the conifers lining the dirt road, I remind myself to pull my hat down over my head before stepping out of the car. The one time I neglected to give due deference to the snowy sculptures suspended overhead, a big melting parapet toppled neatly over my pate and ran down my neck with a cold rush of icy water.

It’s a rite of winter to join Peter and Pam as they celebrate the dumping of coho salmon carcasses into the little creek that runs along the back of their property. Invariably there are a gaggle of kids from Catlin Gable or elsewhere who’ve come to share the raw midwinter experience and eat some of Pam’s delicious chili.

Outside, ringed around the blazing fire, are people from all over. I know some of them, others I recognize but can’t associate with a name. Maybe they had kids at Catlin when my kids were there, or maybe I know them from my trail advocacy work, but in any event I am surprised to see them here at this special seasonal rite. I feel like going over and asking how they knew about this event, this secret forested cabal, where we sacrifice coho cadavers along the banks of Lousignont Creek.

One year, Neal Maine, one of the founders of the North Coast Conservancy, took us on an excursion into history. Starting near the barky edge of a big circular cross cut section of a big old spruce tree, he proceeded to recount the history of this area pointing out among the concentric circles the lean years and the fat ones. “Here’s where we first arrived in the Nehalem Valley”, he said picking out a ring that might have grown around the middle part of the 19th century. “Lewis and Clark must have passed by on the Columbia around here”, he said pointing to an indistinguishable ring”, a bit further in. “Here’s when Christopher Columbus arrived – albeit a long ways from here”. Tracing his progress back in time he pushed his finger deep into the countless concentric rings encircling the core of the ancient spruce. It was a seedling somewhere around the 13th century he surmised.

Locally, the 13th century was and remains an epoch clouded in mystery given how little we know about those early Tillamook Indians who explored the headwaters of the Nehalem River. Those were early days even here, and the Nehalem River was hard to find and harder to follow given its steep banks and thick vegetation. Maybe it was still a pristine forest; still untrodden ground in the 13th century. We may not know much about what went on locally in those ancient times, but it’s likely that these solitary hunters left no more than an occasional footprint among the fern-covered slopes.

But far away on the other side of the globe events were taking shape that would eventually end up affecting these remote forests in a way that would be wholly unforeseen. Far away from the damp environs of the Upper Nehalem River, wheels had already begun to turn that would ultimately connect this stream with an ancient tale of conquest, defeat and byzantine intrigue.


History has a curious way  of knitting people and places together. Lousignont Creek is one of those unusual linkages, a wormhole that pierces through time like a beetle chewing his way to the core.

On the surface, Lousignont seems like an odd name in these parts. More typical names of streams are Darby Creek,  Carlson Creek, or even nearby Wolf Creek. One might wonder whether Lousignont was part of the metis generation descended from the French voyageurs and their native wives. But no, the origins of this name go back as far as the 12th century, long before the Europeans even knew about the Americas.

The King of Jerusalem

During the latter half of the 12th century, the de Lusignan dynasty ruled Poitou, a small marshy fiefdom along the western coast of France. Poitou was fervently religious and supported the christian crusader kingdom based in Jerusalem. Upon the death of King Baldwin the 4th in Jerusalem, there was much competition among the crusaders for the hand of his widowed queen, Sibylla. After several byzantine maneuvers Sibylla chose Guy de Lusignan a handsome knight, ten years her junior, who had just arrived in Jerusalem.

Guido di Lusignano.jpgThus by good looks and timing Guy de Lusignan became the King of Jerusalem in 1186, reigning until 1192. Following his accession to the throne, there was increased fighting with the Ayyubids, who were loyal to Saladin. In 1187 Guy was captured by Saladin and imprisoned in Damascus. A year later he was released, but he was unable to regain his crown, despite strong support from King Richard the Lionheart. In compensation Guy was made the Lord of Cyprus, where he ruled until his death in 1194.

After that rapid rise and fall from power, we see occasional mentions of the de Lusignan family in the Middle East. In France the family had become Huguenots, or French Protestants. These french followers of John Calvin’s teachings soon ran afoul of both the church and state. Persecuted, three de Lusignan brothers fled, setting sail for the French possessions in the South Sea Islands. Despite the idyllic conditions, at least Guy tired of the Polynesian torpor and made his way to Canada.

Westward Migration

From there we can track Guy de Lousignont to Ohio, where his son, John was born in 1818. During John’s youth he apparently moved to Joseph a rough frontier town in the newly minted state of Missouri. In those days “St. Joe”, as it was called, was the “jumping-off point” for those headed west. He stayed there long enough to marry Delilah Enyart, who gave birth to two girls that apparently did not survive. Perhaps it was this tragic loss that pushed John and Delilah westwards, because in 1843 they decamped into the great western wilderness.

Arriving on the eastern reaches of the Walla Walla Valley in 1843, they stopped at the Whitman Mission and tarried awhile with Marcus Whitman – before eventually moving on to Oregon. Records reveal that by that fall John and Delilah Lousignont had finally arrived on the Lower Columbia – as part of the first wagon train to penetrate Columbia County. Once there he acquired some property, but the promise of fertile land just beyond the Tualatin mountains soon drew him into the Nehalem valley, where he built his cabin in Washington County – about as far up the Nehalem River as a canoe can reach. According to federal records, John Lousignont spent most of his years in and near Washington County. His name appears on the voters register for Clackamas County, July 26th, 1845.

“de Lusignan” was the family’s original name but over time the prefix was dropped and the spelling was adapted to conform with contemporary French spelling. But the quirky spelling continued to plague the Lousignonts since we find a wide variety of spellings in the year following their arrival:

1849 census – John Lousignont
1850 census – John Loosenalt
1854 assessment records: J. Lousignot
1855 tax roll – John Losignont

But eventually the “Lousignont” variant stuck. Due, no doubt, to the proliferation of children that followed their arrival on the Nehalem River:

Frank, November 2, 1845, at Gervais
William, April 29, 1847, near Jacksonville
Peter, June 2, 1849, in Oregon City,
Joe, January 9, 1851, near Forest Grove
Jack, February 29th, 1852, near Forest Grove,
Miriam, July 4th , 1853, near Forest Grove,
Margot, February 20th, 1855, near Forest Grove,
Rebecca, October 10, 1857, near Forest Grove
Isaac, March 29th, 1859, near Forest Grove
Kathryn, March 29th, 1861, near Forest Grove

Frank Lousignant:

The creek is actually not named after John. It’s named after his son: Frank Lousignont. Along with his father, Frank Lousignont appears to have been one of the earliest settlers in the valley, hosting new neighbors as they hurried to complete their accommodations before the weather set in and snow made travel difficult. Frank established a claim near the mouth of the creek in 1869 and lived there until 1902. Using his mule to collect supplies in Westport led him to discover an old Indian trail that ran through the valley, along the Klaskanine River, up Fishhook Creek and over the top of the hills and down to the Columbia River. This eventually became the most used trail to access the Nehalem Valley before the days of cars.

Although their homestead on the confluence of Lousignont Creek and the Nehalem River no longer exists, the family has flourished with branches located in Vernonia, Klatskanie, Birkenfeld and Vesper.





Posted in Coastal Trails, Indian lore, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

The chaos at the end of Belding Road.


The false beginning of the Belding Road.

The Belding road is an old logging road that descends way down to the Salmonberry River. No one I know (and that includes forestry types) have been down this abandoned road that crosses back and forth for 11 miles as it sinks nearly 2,500 feet in elevation down into the Salmonberry River Canyon.


Belding Road descending into the Salmonberry canyon.

Some people get a kick out of climbing up things. In my world the rivers run along the bottom of deep canyons and I’m always descending from above. Because the only roads out there are logging roads, they all lead too nowhere in particular. But they’re also everywhere – all along the ridge tops.

Sometimes, to get out into the really remote rivers, you have to drive a labyrinthian route that unspools itself linking one ridgeline to another. Ridgeline roads built to carry heavy loads of timber snake out along the heights pushing ever outwards until the very last ridge has been traversed.

The Belding Road is one of these sinuous and convoluted trails cut into the steepest slopes along the Salmonberry Canyon. It is both primally beautiful and terrifyingly brutal at the same time.


Lidgerwood Roost – near the infamous Windy Gap.

This close to the Coast the landscapes become fiercer: precipitous ravines with towering timbers growing off the cliffs. One of my favorite eyries is a place called Windy Gap. From there, on a good day, you can see the ships sailing up the coast. But when the gales came in 1955 this was no place for mortals. That winter it blew Lee Carrigan’s cabin right off the mountain.


Tunnel 32 – note the bare rock above.

When the big expected gale comes roaring ashore tomorrow, these slopes will be the first landmass they encounter. The barometer is dropping, there is an edginess in the air,

the elk are hunkering down, and the Doug firs are clenching their roots. There is a promise of violence in the air that Coleridge would appreciate.

In 2006, a gargantuan log jam blocked the Salmonberry River at Tunnel Creek. Caught in the tightly twisting canyon the river breached its banks and poured through  the train tunnel. A roaring brown whirlpool swept back up the valley pulling the steep slopes down upon itself.


Widespread damage on lower Salmonberry River

I bet that by tomorrow when the first storms are due to hit, the river will churn once again. This once placid stream will be transformed, as the heavens open up, the storm roars up the canyon, and the syrupy brown water is whipped and churned with great chunks of wood and rock. As the storm intensifies the Salmonberry will froth and thrust forth great gouts of muddy water. Tossing rocks and limbs as much as 50 feet above the river, it will scour the cliffs of vegetation.

Now can you understand why I want to descend the Belding Road to see the chaos at the end of the road?

Posted in Coastal Trails, Logging history | 3 Comments

My book, “Hiking From Portland to the Coast” is now available!

Finally, after eight years of exploring the nearly impenetrable wilderness that stretches from Scappoose to the Coast, it’s finally done and I’m holding a finished book in my hands. Not content with the long dusty hikes, I also worked my way through an immense collection of oral histories, old newspapers, railroad histories, logging chronicles and obscure newsletters to reprise 30 short stories that are offered alongside the 30 trails.

I tried to make this more than just a hiking book. Where other guides concentrate simply on the route itself, this book also presents a collection of stories connected to these lonely places, the histories of their early explorations, as well as the fading Indian heritage. I’ve presented each trail along with its backstory so that you can appreciate the unique qualities of these otherwise silent forests.

Besides, we all know about Oregon’s notorious weather, so some days are good for taking a long hike in our outback, but other days when the heaven’s are pouring down you can still enjoy this book. Light the fire and settle back to read the anecdotes that will just as effectively transport you to another time and place.

The marketing announcement from OSU Press gives details on how bookshops and vendors may purchase copies. For the individual buyer I would recommend Powell’s Bookstore, or Amazon.com. Also keep you ears open for announcements here and elsewhere on readings that I have planned.

Here’s a link to where you can purchase it at Powell’s:



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North Fork of the Salmonberry – alternative access to the Salmonberry River

Southern Route - Lower SalmonberryNorth Fork of the Salmonberry Trail

Brief summary: This trail really goes to the heart of what led me to write this guide: the desire to find the truly beautiful places that exist way out beyond where most people will venture. This hike begins with a bone-jarring, but awe-inspiring drive that creeps along the edges of steep cliffs and reveals panoramic views into the fortress of mountains surrounding the Salmonberry River. It is a landscape that conjures up the presence of natural forces that are far from pastoral and quiescent. For me this “back way” down to the Salmonberry River is a very special experience. If you really want to get “out there”, this trail will take you there (and get you home, as well).

North Fork Salmnbry

Distance/Duration: From the Sylvan exit to the bottom of the North Fork Salmonberry Road is 54.8 miles. Just the portion on US 26 (from the Sylvan interchange to the “Section 10 Road”) is 41.3 miles or 45 minutes. The dirt road from US 26 to the end of the North Fork Salmonberry Road is 13.5 miles long. Expect that it will take you at least 1 hour and 30 minutes to complete. The footpath that descends along the North Fork of the Salmonberry River is only about 1.4 miles long and will take you 1 hour and 5 minutes to traverse. The total trip (one way) will take 3 hours and 20 minutes of travel time.

The "North Fork"

The “North Fork”

Remember to add in rest stops and time to enjoy the river to your travel time. Depending on the condition of the road, I often park about a 20 minutes walk from the end of the North Fork Salmonberry Road. This portion of the road has several significant run-off gutters that cross the road diagonally, and can be challenging to cross without scraping the bottom of your car. Drive as far as your comfort level will permit, and consider unloading passengers to lighten the car. These precautions can add another 20 to 30 minutes to your travel time. That said, I have successfully navigated this rough road with a Honda Odyssey at least a dozen times, but “slick and muddy” conditions make me more cautions about how far I want to go…At a minimum plan for six and a half hours to get in and out, and back to Portland.

 Trail Log:

 From Portland to “Section 10 Road”: Head west on the Sunset Highway, and be sure to reset your odometer to zero as you pass by Exit 71B, also known as the “Sylvan exit” at the summit of the West Hills. From there travel 42 minutes or 41.3 miles to reach the “Section 10” road that diverges from US 26 on your left side. Should you miss this exit you can also take the Salmonberry exit, .2 miles onwards. The Section 10 Road is easier to spot since it emerges alongside Highway 26 and debouches into a wide gravel area on your left. The Salmonberry Road junction is harder to spot since it’s in a corner and the side road is not visible until you’re nearly through the curve – so go slowly if you miss the Section 10 Road.


The “North Fork” is among the best Steel head streams in the country!

From US 26 to end of the North Fork Salmonberry Road: Reset your odometer as you leave the highway since subsequent distance measurements are given in terms of distance travelled after departing Highway 26. We leave Highway 26 at the entrance to the Section 10 Road, at an elevation of 1585 ft. To get all the way down to the Salmonberry River will require navigating past two mountain ranges each approaching 2500 ft. in elevation and then descending down to the confluence at 760 ft. elevation.

The route starts following Section 10 road, but this quickly merges with another access road (the Salmonberry Road), coming in from the right. From here on the road is designated as the “the Wheeler Road”. Keep following the Wheeler Road as it ascends the first heights. There are many smaller roads that connect to the Wheeler road, but you will want to stay on the central road (that shows the most use). After 2.68 miles (odometer reading) you will pass another road coming in from the right: Shields Road. Immediately thereafter the main road begins to descend and at 2.87 odometer miles you will enter an intersection referred to as Coyote Corner. On your left is a well-travelled road, which is the continuation of Wheeler Road. It heads east to Reeher’s Campground located behind Timber. But we will bypass this road and continue straight – now travelling along the “Wheeler Cut-off road”. At 3.66 odometer miles we encounter another connecting road (Shields Road – yes, this is the other end of the “Shields Road” that we passed a mile back) coming in from the right. Bypass it and immediately thereafter the Wheeler Cut-off Road starts to drop dramatically. Near the bottom of this steep hill the road begins to sweep around to the left. On the right side is a small forest road veering gently to your right. This is the continuation of the North Fork Salmonberry Road and can serve as an alternate route. But today we will continue to sweep around the corner where we are confronted by a three-way split.

Chose the middle road that turns slightly to the right. On the extreme right a short “skidder road” peters out almost immediately as it ascends the clear-cut slope to your right. The left hand option, the Wheeler Pond Road, is also well used since it comes in from Cochran Pond. But for our purposes we will take the middle option, which is the continuation of the Wheeler Pond Road. Slightly more than four and a half miles later, you will reach the summit of the final ridge – the site of a long abandoned logging camp (“Camp Nine”) at an elevation of 2400 ft. If you need further confirmation on how to navigate these labyrinthine roads both Chapters 23 and 24 include descriptions on how to reach Camp Nine,

Using the aforementioned route, you will enter into the ridge top clearing known as Camp Nine from the a northeasterly direction. I recommend stopping here to take in the impressive views and to scope out the various roads leading out of this clearing.

On your right is another road (Salmonberry Road) coming in from a northerly direction. Straight across the clearing (looking South) you will see three roads leading onwards. The middle one is just a short trail into the woods – long enough to accommodate a pick-up and trailer. Just to the right of the camping driveway is another road heading off in a southwesterly direction. This is the North Fork Salmonberry Road – and this is the route we will want to follow. The final choice, on the left, is the top of the Beaver Slide Road described previously.


The afternoon sun filters through the forest casting a reddish glow.

Follow the North Fork Salmonberry Road from this clearing. For two miles it traverses the southerly face of this ridge and then it makes a sharp U-turn and heads along the top of a south-facing ridge with stupendous views. Soon the road turns north and begins the long descent into the basin carved by the North Fork of the Salmonberry River. The road continues in this northerly direction for about 1.7 miles (from the U-turn). During this stretch you will encounter the first “run-off gutters” that will take patience to navigate (take them at an angle). At the 1.7 mile point (from the U-turn) the road swings around and begins to traverse the slope heading in a southerly direction. This last portion of the road can be challenging, so parking the car at this turn is not unreasonable. The final part of this descent is steep, rocky and drops precipitously as it winds its way .7 miles down to the base of the slope, just above the North Fork of the Salmonberry. In all, the trip from the highway to the bottom of the North Fork Salmonberry Road will take you about 1 hour and 25 minutes.

This descent has been successfully traversed by my Honda Odyssey during the dry months of the year, but nonetheless it’s very difficult to navigate with frequent rocks and branches that need removing, and diagonal gutters carved into the road that require careful maneuvering to avoid damaging your car’s underside – not to mention retaining enough traction to climb the hill on the way out. The road gets rockier and the grade increases to more than 15% as you descend. It is quite sensible to park your car anywhere next to this road and complete the descent on foot – if you are not comfortable with the steepness and rough conditions. Such precautions are especially appropriate if conditions are wet or if you have passengers.

Trailhead: The trailhead itself is a bit anti-climactic especially after crawling your way down the steep and rocky approach road. Yes, now that you’ve reached the trailhead you can unclench your hands from their death grip on the steering wheel! During hunting season it’s customary to find one or more hunters encamped in this remote location, but at other times of the year it’s quite deserted. The easily visible footpath leaves the open area on the left side (southwesterly direction) and heads southwards along the North Fork of the Salmonberry River.

 Trail condition: The trail is fairly rugged with lots of fallen trees to cross, and several areas where the path has been buried in fallen rocks – you have to pick your way through the rocky slope. At other places the river has eaten away the supports for the rail bed and you’re left clutching at branches as you try to cross the slippery slopes overlooking the river. The trail also crosses a number of streams that can be quite active in the winter and spring.


The hike down along the “North Fork” is crossed by numerous little tributaries.

 Elevation change: The elevation loss experienced on the footpath leading directly to the main stem of the Salmonberry River is a negligible 240 ft. The toughest descent was accomplished in your car.

 Trail Log: The footpath down to the main stem of the Salmonberry River actually follows a rail spur that climbed the North Fork of the Salmonberry River. The original spur line terminated at the trailhead. The road that leads down to that point was added much later. Years ago, the southern end of the rail spur we’re following crossed the Salmonberry on a high wooden bridge that connected this spur to the main line of the Pacific Railroad & Navigation line, which ran along the entire length of the Salmonberry River.

As we follow the old rail bed down and around a corner we are soon confronted with the damage wrought by a vengeful nature. At some places the rail bed has been buried by rockslides. At others it has been eroded to a whisper of a footpath. But in between you will find wide, level stretches of trail. And all along the way you’ll love the charming waterfalls that gurgle and leap their way down the valley.

The hike down this valley always seems longer than the return. It’s probably due to the fact that I tend to forget the many different types of terrain we encounter along the North Fork of the Salmonberry River. Eventually, we turn the final corner and begin a gentle descent into a cozy sunlight clearing. This is a favorite stopping place for the hunters and anglers that seasonally frequent this area. Indeed, it was through reading an angler’s guide to Oregon rivers that I first learned of this provisional trail and the “easy” access it provided to the river.


Confluence of the North Fork of the Salmonberry River and the main stem of the Salmonberry River.

Entering into the clearing, I recommend that you walk to the southern edge where the lush grass ends abruptly above a cliff overlooking the river. It was from this elevated clearing that the original bridgehead crossed the river. To get down to the river, turn around and walk to the northern edge of the clearing. From there you will see that a small path leads west and wraps around a small knoll before descending down to the riverside.


Loki’s Pool – where the North Fork meets the Salmonberry River.

To cross the main stem of the river (during the warmer seasons of the year) I recommend turning left immediately after descending the final drop to the riverbank. To the left you will find a pool big enough to soak in, but also shallow enough at its lower end to cross on foot. On the other side climb the shelf of river rocks and head “upstream” , while at the same time getting closer to the heavily vegetated slope the separates the river bank from the forest growing above. There among the ferns and tree roots you will notice a track that leads up the steep slope. Look closer and you should find a rope dangling down the slick slope; use it to haul yourself up and into the forest above.

Once up the slope, head to your right – to an area that seems relatively open – this is where the rail spurs that went around the end of the ridge are located. Once you’ve found them, follow them upstream through the dense underbrush until you emerge on the main rails near the mouth of the tunnel. Now you’ve found the PR&N, or as the old-timers called it, the “Punk Rotten and Nasty.”

Next on our agenda is to walk through the tunnel. This tunnel is relatively short so you can stumble your way through without a flashlight, but you would do well to come equipped with a flashlight. As we emerge from the other side of the tunnel you should note the sign that says “808”. Its significance is that the Southern Pacific, which owned this difficult stretch of railroad numbered all the tunnels to reflect their distance from the heart of the Union Pacific rail system – on Market Street in downtown San Francisco. So you are now standing 808 miles from downtown San Francisco!

Right here is also where the Edwards incline incident occurred. Had you been standing here on that fateful day in 1928, you’d have been mangled beyond recognition. But luckily for all, no one was hurt even though the valley echoed with the impact of the fully loaded rail cars as they flew across the river and were obliterated as they struck the main line of the PN&R and the cliff face beyond the tracks. Read the anecdote on gyppo logging in Chapter 21 for the full story of this dramatic incident.

Loki basking in the afternoon sunlight after swimming in his favorite pool at the confluence of the North Fork and the Salmonberry River.

Loki basking in the afternoon sunlight after swimming in his favorite pool.

If you have time before the light fades, hike along the rail line. There are many more spectacular examples of what an angry river can do to massive rails and iron bridges along the way.

To walk all the way down to the Foss Bridge from the 808 tunnel will take you another five or six hours. To walk the 2.5 miles upstream to the junction with the Beaver Slide road will take several hours because of the unusually heavy damage in this stretch of the river. As you plan your excursions along the main stem of the Salmonberry River remember to leave enough time to climb out of the canyon before nightfall! Remember there is NO WAY to call home from the bottom of this gorge to let them know you’ll be late – unless you carry a satellite beacon.


Posted in Misc Trails & Trips, Salmonberry Trails | Leave a comment

Whoa! Please stay off the Salmonberry Trail while its under construction!

It’s great news that this historic trail is being built, and that we have two state agencies collaborating to get this trail fixed up and repaired to the point that it can be safely used.

Currently it is not safe to use!!

It is not safe for people to hike or bike the Salmonberry rail line yet. Help it become a trail first, then use it!

Alternative hikes in the area include the Trail from Reehers Camp to Gales Creek, the Triple CC Trail, the Standard Grade Trail, Bloom Lake, the Four County point Trail and the Banks-Vernonia Trail. All of these trails are described on this website.

Seriously, folks they’re planning to issue trespassing citations to thrill-seekers that ignore the no trespassing signs. If you have to see what’s at the bottom of this scenic canyon try using the Beaverslide Road approach, or the North Fork of the Salmonberry. I will post directions for the North Fork approach very soon.

I also highly recommend walking the Standard grade road that parallels the Salmonberry, only it’s at 2,500 ft in elevation with some tremendous views. It’s also great to bike (even with a street bike). You can reach it by climbing up the slope to the south of Cochran Pond. Just cross the RR tracks and keep climbing up the hill. One road leads to Bell Camp Road (ignore that one) and the other reaches a gated road – that’s the Standard Grade – follow it to the ridge top and follow it south as far as you want. I’ve ridden my bike all the way to Roger’s peak, but you can get all the way to Cook Creek (near Nehalem Bay) with lots of perseverance.

I will post a detailed description of the Standard Grade trail shortly. It’s one of my favorites. You can also reach it by using Highway 6 and at the summit follow the dirt road that veers off to your right. Follow Storey Burn Road to it’s end – high on a ridge. Go past the gate and when you reach the ridgetop about a quarter mile further you’ll see another road coming up the slope on your left – from Cochran Pond.

Posted in Salmonberry Trails, Trails, Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Salmonberry Trail Intergovernmental Agency – 3rd meeting

On August 5th, the agency that was created expressly to handle the development of the Salmonberry Trail met near the Blimp Hangers in Tillamook. This was its third meeting and the agenda was weighty enough that even those fat blimps next door would be challenged to keep the progress aloft. True to form, I came equipped with my canoe and Zoe, whom I’d promised to take for a plunge in the Wilson River. I mean really, you have to have some less serious entertainment to keep one focused on the bureaucratic issues that dominated the agenda!

Lest I lose you, let me just list some of the topics that are regulars on this “agency’s” recurring agenda:

  • New bylaws (developed by the PSU-based Oregon Solutions) were approved.
  • Fundraising progress – most of the initial grants are focused on “capacity building”

Substantive business:

  • Logo – one of the first grants was dedicated to the development of a logo. Seems a little like putting the cart before the horse, but why argue when they’re paying for the cart! Several early logo designs were on display. They mostly tried to convey the notion of a river coming out of a mountainous landscape. Nothing jaw dropping, but certainly they were sufficient to get the basic concept across.
  • Rail ownership was a major topic, since “rail-banking” ultimately turns on the question of who will be responsible for the rail bed on which the trail will rest. Before we can get the OK from the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) to convert the use of this land we’ll need to agree upon the ultimate ownership of the RR alignment. Of course, the Port of Tillamook Bay (POTB) wants to be compensated for the rail alignment, but others insist that they were already compensated with FEMA monies after the flood of 2006. POTB says it has over a $ 1 million in rail-related debt that it would like to be compensated for. Undoubtedly, I’m over-simplifying…and the devil is in the details.
  • A letter from the POTB to the NTSB was crafted and accepted by the STIA. This letter announcing the POTB’s intent to discontinue service starts a complicated process  entailing predetermined periods of time within which public comment and agency responses establish a path to the ultimate goal of “rail-banking” the entire route.
  • With respect to the ultimate transfer of ownership from the POTB to the STIA, it was decided that the POTB will bring a 3 person team to these negotiations, and the STIA will be represented by 3 different members (who don’t have obvious conflicts-of-interest).
  • There was a review of the meeting in Timber which uncovered some strong local anxiety about the large numbers of thrill-seekers driving out to Cochran Pond and then walking onto the Big Baldwin Trestle. Dennis Wiley, the project manager reports upwards of 30 cars parked at Cochran Pond. “It’s gone viral”, he insisted. Conversations with hikers revealed visitors from as far away as Alberta. They were equally dismissive of any efforts to block access. “How long do you think that will last?” they retorted when it was suggested that the bridge access might be blocked off.
  • A Coastal Trail Planning Advisory Committee was announced to begin delving into the knotty issues affecting the very narrow right-of-way between Wheeler and Tillamook. Four sections have been identified that may pose significant problems due to space constraints and abutting estuaries that are practically insurmountable. These sections include:
    1. Botts Marsh – partially zoned Estuary Development. Also steep embankments
    2. Wheeler to Rockaway Beach – abuts estuary shoreline. Two very difficult spots.
    3. Rockaway Beach to Garibaldi – abuts estuary shoreline. Two very difficult spots.
    4. Garibaldi to Bay City – abuts Estuary Natural Zone, and Estuary Conservation.
  • There was some discussion about how to discourage hikers from trying to walk the Salmonberry Canyon at this time – prior to the repairs that are essential to make the route safe. It was concluded that the message should be:

It is not safe for people to hike or bike the Salmonberry rail line yet. Help it become a trail first, then use it!

Alternative hikes in the area include the Trail from Reehers Camp to Gales Creek, the Triple CC Trail, the Standard Grade Trail, Bloom Lake, the Four County point Trail and the Banks-Vernonia Trail. All of these trails are described on this website.

  • The meeting also included some public input.
    1. Most of it concerned the disposition of the trail in relation to private parcels that abut the proposed trail.
    2. In anticipation of the announced discussion about trespassing and potential danger to thrill-seekers, the author emphasized that simply admonishing would-be visitors with a strongly worded caution about the illegality of trespassing was not enough. He suggested that signage be developed and placed at the Timber junction (US 26 and Timber Road) that redirected would-be visitors to other trails such as Reeher’s camp, the trail to Gales Creek, the triple C trail and other trails along US 26. The sooner that visitors could be cautioned and provided with alternatives the more likely it would be that they would divert from their original destination. Even at Cochran, the Standard Grade would be a suitable alternative, albeit a route that crosses private timber land. In addition, I suggested that the gravel road to Cochran be paved as far as Reeher’s camp to reduce the dust for Timber residents, and to reinforce the impression that Reeher’s Camp was the “end of the road”.
Posted in Salmonberry Trails, Trails, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Salmonberry Trail Agency gains traction at Feb 5th meeting.

STIA makes progress:

After a bit of a slow start at the December 11th meeting, the Salmonberry Trail Inter-governmental Agency (STIA) hit the ground running at their February 5th meeting.

Two issues dominated the discussion:

  • The question of how land ownership would be transferred to the STIA was revealed to be less critical than completing the “rail banking” process.
  • Three Trail Segment Planning Committees that relied upon local community participation were proposed.

After swearing in the members of the newly formed Agency, the group took brief testimony from the public:

  • Jim Thayer, an early proponent of this trial, encouraged the STIA to take a more proactive role in keeping the public informed of progress on this project.
  • A representative from the Oregon Coast Scenic Railroad (OCSR) indicated that she was representing the intersts of the OCSR to use portions of the railway – at this point extending from Tillamook to just beyond the confluence of the Salmonberry and the Nehalem River.

Fundraising update:

Ross Holloway (Oregon Department of Forestry) gave a generally encouraging assessment of the STIA’s initial fundraising efforts. Four initial requests were mentioned:

  • Tillamook Transient Lodging Tax Facilities Grant – the fundraising team submitted a $100,000 grant application. The county has not yet responded, but it is expected that the strategic importance of this trail will ensure support when the county decides upon its allocation of grant support. It is expected that the Salmonberry Trail project will tap the funding from the Tillamook Transient Lodging Tax on an annual basis. The initial use for this funding would be for supplemental planning on the coastal segment of the trail in Tillamook County.
  • Rails-to-Trails Conservancy – Doppelt Grant. Here the team is seeking $10,000 in “capacity building” funds. No award has been made so far.
  • Oregon Forest Resources Institute’s Small Grant Program. OFRI granted a portion of our request and asked us to come back again after the start of their new fiscal year in July. The STIA is in the progress of signing an agreement with OFRI. The focus of the intended collaboration and funding is capacity building to support effective stakeholder engagement. OFRI is interested in our efforts to connect with private forest landowners, as well as show-casing Oregon’s best forestry practices. There is discussion of developing a way to connect property owners, recreational interests, community leaders, businesses into a network of information sharing and the development of engagement opportunities – essentially taking off from the groundswell of support generated by the Salmonberry Coalition.
  • Finally, Ross announced that they had also requested $10,000 from the Marketing and Promotion fund that is also financed through the Tillamook Transient Lodging Tax. The intent of this discretely funded initiative would be to develop a marketing and outreach plan for the overall project. Initially it will focus on research and stakeholder engagement, but may also launch a marketing and promotion committee whose tasks would likely include the development of a logo and brand identity.
  • Other sources of funding mentioned included Kaiser Permanente, Cycle Oregon, Washington County and Travel Oregon.

In all these requests totaled $150,000 out of an expected “baseline phase one” estimate of $23 million, but it is still early days and it is unlikely that these capacity building grants will lead to immediate revenue streams commensurate with our longer term goals. Doug Decker reminded the agency members that at this point the objective was more about “awareness and alignment” than about substantial financial support.

Oregon Solutions – Ownership Issues:

Oregon Solutions now presented their findings about ownership issues, as was requested at the December 11th meeting. Pete Dalke, with the PSU-based consultancy, made it clear that ownership should not be the initial concern. Instead, it should be the completion of the “rail banking” process. This process is triggered by an announcement to discontinue rail service. He cautioned that we should approach the ownership issue, “one bite at a time”, concentrating first on rail banking before undertaking a change of ownership. In addition he mentioned that the rail banking might even be split into segments, corresponding to the planning segments mentioned later.

Once the Port of Tillamook Bay (POTB) has issued a notice to discontinue service both the trail development and the change in financial ownership can proceed in parallel. The POTB can choose to whom they want to convey the ownership. They could retain the ownership and lease the rail access,  or they could sell it to cover outstanding POTB debts exceeding $1 million. Ultimately, they will need a recipient that will assume responsibility for the rail line – to be eligible for federal funding sources.

Doug Decker, the Director of the Oregon Department of Forestry, likened this sequential process to navigating “stage-gates” in project management. First, we work with POTB to complete the rail banking process, then we can entertain the change of ownership, and lastly we work with POTB to invest in the land conservation work of developing and building the Salmonberry Trail.

The first order of business is to convey this collaborative process to the board of the POTB. To that end it was resolved to send them a letter and also to initiate direct contacts to convey the sequence and timing involved in this process.

Oregon Solutions – local government involvement:

Following the first Oregon Solutions response to the question of ownership, Jim Johnson briefed the STIA on the the second initiate that Oregon Solutions had been asked to complete: to survey the the communities and jurisdictions affected by this project. He reported that he got an “overall good response”, but he did not meet individually with the communities. Jim also suggested that they set up a special meeting with the POTB to complete a Declaration of Cooperation to establish a firm path for future collaboration.

Trail Segment Planning Committees:

Now, Ross Holloway presented on a proposal to establish distinct Trail Segment Planning Committees. He proposed that the STIA would be the main convener – meeting quarterly. The STIA would set up the ground-rules, but the Committees can embellish the rules to fit their needs. It was noted that “we need to be mindful of whom we include in this process”. The co-convener would be nominated by the local communities. Co-conveners would also select the Committee members. Staffing would be decided by the committees and would handle issues such as local marketing, land-use changes (e.g., Washington County) and  issues unique to each segment. Each of these Trail Segment Planning Committees would report back to the STIA for final adoption of any recommendations. The three segments include:

  • Tillamook to Salmonberry confluence (Coastal)
  • Salmonberry River up to Cochran Pond (Canyon)
  • Cochran Pond to Buxton (Valley)


Apparently, there may be another fiber optics line “coming ashore” at Tillamook. During his presentation on maintenance, Ross mentioned that the revenues from the existing fiber-optics lines owner would be used to fund maintenance on the completed trails.

Future meetings:

April 1, 2016: Tillamook Forest Heritage Trust (45500 Wilson Rvr Hwy) 10:00 AM to 1 PM June 3, 2016:   Banks Firehouse or Stub Stewart Park                                   10:00 AM to 1 PM



Posted in Salmonberry Trails, Trails, Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Metro: Stop banning dogs from our regional parks!

In 1995 and again in 2006 Metro proposed two bond measures to acquire land for future parks. Portlanders enthusiastically supported these acquisitions. Unbeknownst to most of us, the Metro Council then took the unusual step to ban all dogs from these future parks!

Thought cloud

None of the public information circulated during the bond measure campaigns provided any clue that Metro intended to exclude pets from the land they purchased. I only learned of this dog ban because I am a member of Metro’s North Tualatin Trails Natural Area Development Project.

Please consider these 5 points:

  1. Two bond measures were passed and the proceeds used to acquire parklands. During the bond measure campaigns there was no mention of prohibiting pets. The subsequently imposed dog ban stopped 62.7% of our population from using those public amenities, because they owned dogs. Voters were not endorsing a dog prohibition. But that’s exactly what the Metro Council did. By enforcing this dog ban across its four county jurisdiction, Metro is penalizing dog-owners and it’s refusing to even acknowledge that there is opposition to this sledge-hammer policy.
  1. Portlanders have legally walked their dogs in these natural areas for nearly 4 decades – even when the areas were in private ownership. Now that Metro owns it, they want to restrict access and enforce a total dog ban. This conflict reflects a trade-off between prior users’ needs and habitat protection, and it deserves a more nuanced approach than an across-the-board ban on all dogs in all Metro parks.
  1. Pet owners should accept selective exclusions for dogs, especially in areas with sensitive game populations. We also need to enforce our existing leash laws more assiduously, but we should oppose the total exclusion of dogs from all 17,000 acres of our regional parks. This is a clumsy solution that will only engender opposition to all land conservation efforts. It encourages the most ardent champions of outdoor recreation to oppose further land acquisitions, for fear of losing the last remaining spots for rural dog walking.
  1. All efforts to initiate a dialogue with Metro about the legitimacy and efficacy of this policy have so far been ignored. You really have to search Metro’s voluminous website to find any mention of the dog ban. All Metro announcements heralding the opening of new parks avoid any mention of dogs. Metro believes this is a “settled” issue since it’s “Metro policy” and they scrub any mention of opposition as irrelevant.
  1. Finally, data from the 2014-2015 Statewide Comprehensive Outdoor Recreation Plan (SCORP) reinforces the importance of dog walking for Portlanders:
  1. Dogs are the second biggest motivator to recreate in nature.Smoking dog
  2. Half of Portlanders (49%) want more trails to run their dogs.

The inequities of this ban are so clear it’s hard to understand why Metro won’t consider a more thoughtful case-by-case approach.

Like King Canute they should adopt more effective means to achieve their goals.

Jim Thayer

Board Secretary, Columbia Land Trust

Author, Portland Forest Hikes, Timber Press, 2007

Vice-chair, Oregon Recreational Trail Advisory Council (OPRD)

Member, Salmonberry Trail Development Committee (ODF)

Member, North Tualatin Natural Area Development Project (Metro)

Blog: Foresthiker.com


Posted in Lower Columbia Trails, Misc Trails & Trips, Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Salmonberry Trail Intergovernmental Agency hesitates at first meeting.

Salmonberry Trail Intergovernmental Agency stalls at first meeting.

Over the last year and a half the Oregon Department of Forestry (ODF) and the Oregon  of Parks and Recreation Department (OPTD) have been laying the groundwork to establish an interagency task force that would manage the funding and construction of the Salmonberry Trail. Mostly this process is dominated by agency administrators, various county commissioners, officials from the Port of Tillamook Bay, and Senator Betsy Johnson.

Like many of these bureaucratic processes the pace is glacial and the sticking points are obscure issues that tend to put most people to sleep. There are only a few of us recreational advocates monitoring this process. We’re there to ensure the process moves forward and that the public is informed of its progress. There has been a lot accomplished over the last year, which I will review later in this post.

In December 2015 the first meeting of the newly constituted Salmonberry Trail Intergovernmental Agency proved very disappointing! Aside from temporarily setting aside the inclusion of the Grand Ronde Tribes onto the Board, the organization also failed to act on its first substantive issue – taking possession of the property on which the railroad line was built. Clear state ownership by a single entity is essential to secure federal assistance.

As a result, neither of the two motions brought before the interagency group were approved. In both cases it seems that concerns about process or the implications of assuming ownership risks had not been adequately examined. With the next board meetings scheduled two months hence, the resulting delay has clearly slowed the project’s momentum. Nobody it seemed had counted noses to see if the motions enjoyed the necessary consensus. Interagency agreements are all fine and good, but it’s internal consensus building and effective external communication that ensure their success.

Background: Storms knock out the PR&N railroad:

Since the violent coastal storm of  December 2007, there has been increased discussion about converting the Pacific Railroad and Navigation (PR&N) that runs from Washington County to Tillamook into a pedestrian, cycling and equestrian trail. With each new storm the repair costs have increased until it became clear to the Port of Tillamook Bay (POTB), that their railroad line was no longer sustainable. While earlier storms had inflicted more than $15 million in damages, the storm of 2007 increased the costs to restore the rail service to more than $60 million.

Hikers and recreational users press for a rail-to-trail conversion:

During this time the recreational community was beginning to take notice of this “gorgeous” trek and began to inquire about the fate of this seemingly abandoned railroad. In 2010, the “www.foresthiker.com” website published a detailed guide to walking the “wild” portion of the route from Cochran Pond all the way to the confluence with the Lower Nehalem River. This attracted  a sizable number of more adventurous hikers that were willing to deal with the overgrown and treacherous conditions along the flood ravaged banks of the Salmonberry River. Around 2011 I recall contacting John Blackwell, then the Chair of the Board of Forestry, who was involved in a nascent effort to convert the rails to a trail. “We have to wait until the Port of Tillamook decides that restoring rail service is no longer viable. Until they’re on board there’s nothing anyone can do, since they own the rail road”, he informed me. “Keep your powder dry”, he advised, “they’ll have to make a decision soon.” In the meantime, I began to advocate to local recreational groups and regional trail planners for a route to the coast and my first recommendation was to use the rail bed along the Salmonberry River. In the summer of 2012, Oregon Public Broadcasting featured my efforts to establish a Portland-to-the-Coast route on their Oregon Field Guide program (http://watch.opb.org/video/2301631117/).

ODF and OPRD conduct extensive outreach to affirm support for the Salmonberry Trail:

Shortly thereafter, the Port of Tillamook Bay abandoned efforts to restore rail service to Tillamook and they agreed to work with the Department of Forestry (ODF)  and the Oregon Parks and Recreation Department (OPRD) to convert the rail bed for recreational use – from Manning in Washington County all the way to Tillamook. In July of 2013, the OPRD convened a meeting of interested neighbors, recreational users, and representatives of the nearby communities – the “Salmonberry Coalition”.

Walker-Macy completes the Master Plan:

The purpose of these meetings was to kickoff the Master Plan, which included public outreach meetings through most of 2014. In November 2014, Walker Macy, a local engineering firm, had completed the Master Plan.  In March of that year the Oregon Senate passed Senate Bill 1516 at the urging of Senator Betsy Johnson. It directed the ODF and the OPRD to work together to bring this project to fruition. As part of this collaboration, it was agreed to establish a Salmonberry Corridor Development Committee under the aegis of the ODF’s  Tillamook Forest Heritage Trust. This committee, of which I am a member was tasked with developing a fundraising plan capable of raising the funds needed for this ambitious trail project.

Metropolitan Group study affirms the feasibility of raising as much as $23 million.

The Salmonberry Trail Development Committee’s first action was to engage the Metropolitan Group, a Portland-based public relations firm, to develop a fundraising feasibility study. By July 2015, the Metropolitan Group had issued their conclusion that it was possible to raise at least $23 million (costs were estimated at $23 million to $45 million) over ten years – from a combination of state, federal, county and local funding, along with a substantial contribution by private and individual donations.

The Salmonberry Trail Intergovernmental Agency:

At the same time an intergovernmental agency was created to provide a solid governance structure for the project. The Oregon Department of Forestry (ODF), the Oregon Parks and Recreation Department (OPRD), Tillamook County, and the Port of Tillamook Bay (POTB) agreed to establish the Salmonberry Trail Intergovernmental Agency (STIA). As part of this new governance, Dennis Wiley, an OPRD employee, was appointed as the manager for the overall project. He takes over from the industrious efforts of Rocky Houston (OPRD) and Ross Holloway (ODF).

Let your voice be heard:

I am presenting this summary of the Salmonberry Trail development in order to keep recreational enthusiasts, hikers, fishermen and local residents apprised of the progress, or lack of it. Input from all of us can have a significant impact on the pace of the project moving forward. It took 20 years to build the Banks-to-Vernonia trail. No doubt this project will take at least as long, but without pressure from the potential users this project could stall indefinitely – so let your voice be heard at the OPRD, the ODF and at Senator Betsy Johnson’s office – she’s a fierce proponent of this project!

Look for regular updates on this website as this visionary project continues…

Jim Thayer

Posted in Salmonberry Trails, Uncategorized | 2 Comments

What’s up with building the Salmonberry Trail?

It’s been several months since I have posted any significant new additions to this site. The reason for my absence? I was totally engrossed in completing the manuscript for my next book, “Trails and Tails – Exploring Oregon’s North Coast Mountains”. To turn the anecdotes and trail guides offered on this website into an engaging book required a major re-write and several rounds of edits. For those of you that are more familiar with this website, you may



recognize some anecdotes, but I suspect that for many this combination of trails linked to their authentic histories will offer a unique view of Oregon’s Coastal Mountains. I hope the added dimension will give you a better appreciation of a history that has been so overgrown that it was all but forgotten.

About a week ago the Oregon State University Press accepted my final draft and initiated the actual production of the book. Over the next few months, I’ll add in the photos, the maps, the bibliography of sources, and help determine the shape and appearance of “Trails and Tales”. No doubt there will be more work to come, but the essential project, including trail descriptions and accompanying “historical anecdotes”, is now complete!

Now I can move forward with the collection of more trails and more stories about the people that forged a home out of the impenetrable forests that thrive across the northwestern corner of this state.  I also want to expand the scope of my blog about the  North Coast Mountains to include more contemporary issues, such as:

  • The Salmonberry Project – a multi-agency initiative, including the Oregon Department of Forestry (ODF), the Oregon Parks and Recreation Department (OPRD), and the Port of Tillamook Bay (POTB) to build a pedestrian, cycling and equestrian trail from Washington County, down the Salmonberry and Nehalem Rivers to Tillamook. I currently serve on a Forestry-led committee focusing on the fundraising and marketing for this effort. This is a complicated inter-agency “beast” that may need periodic prodding to overcome its hesitations.
  • “No dogs allowed” – Metro’s portfolio of “natural areas” has grown dramatically during the past two decades. Today Metro manages 17,000 acres of parks, trails and natural areas. Many of us supported this regional conservation initiative believing it to be the solution to our need for places to recreate – close to the city. But through my
    Smoking dog

    Smoking dog

    participation in one of Metro’s trail development projects (North Tualatin Mountains expansion plan) I  was astonished to learn that dogs are entirely prohibited in almost all of Metro’s 17,000 acres of parks and natural areas! As a result pet-owners (62% of Metro area residents) will be excluded from walking their pets because of an administrative rule that Metro refuses to reconsider. Good luck finding anything about this dog ban on the Metro site. It’s mentioned, but is very difficult to find and recent announcemnts failed to mention the ban for would-be park visitors. More on this later.

  • Weyerhauser: $200 to access the forest! – Weyerhauser has recently initiated a fee-for access scheme that would require more than $200 for vehicular access and $60 for pedestrians to access Weyerhauser managed lands from June through December. Permits can only be acquired on only one day per year: May 20th. This effectively excludes recreational users and week-end hikers. It’s also a great loss of economic development potential for these rural communities. And it is a loss of Oregon’s patrimony of endless forests to explore! I’m hopeful that some more inclusive arrangement can be found that empowers the local communities to develop recreational tourism strategies to capitalize on the beauty of Oregon’s Coastal mountains. There may be a win-win solution hidden in all of this…

Look out for an update soon on the Salmonberry Trail planning! I will also recommend a really special car camping site up at Northrop Creek Horse camp.

Posted in Lower Columbia Trails, Salmonberry Trails, Trails, Uncategorized | 4 Comments