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)


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 “” 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 (

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

Excerpt from coming book on NW Oregon: What was Illahee?

Some of you may be aware that I am writing a book about trails between Portland and the Coast for the Oregon University Press that will probably be released in early 2016. As part of that exercise, I have been writing small stand-alone sections describing the lesser known aspects of NW Oregon’s history – mostly on the blog side of this site.

I often post the 1st draft of my writings as “blog” pieces, and it appears from the steady flow of registrants to the website that you seem to enjoy these explorations in to the lesser known corners of Oregon’s history.

In that spirit I herewith offer up a short digression from my forthcoming book on the fascinating concept of “territoriality” as practiced amongst the Indians of this area up until the arrival of the settlers in the 1840’s. So without further ado…


To the Indians residing in and around the Portland area natural divisions such as rivers, mountains, watersheds and waterfalls were significant, but unlike Europeans they tended to not rely on these physical features to delineate the extent of their “home territory”. This, of course, became a huge problem when they began to have conflicts with settlers over land right during the middle of the nineteenth century. The Europeans wanted to have exclusive rights to the lands and sought to sequester the Indians into ever smaller parcels of land. But the Indians fundamentally did not understand the idea that a person could own any part of the physical world around them. It is true that Indians inhabited and used specific portions of the landscape, establishing what we might refer to in diplomatic history as “spheres of influence” suggesting a special association with a location based on its proximity to their villages. Had we visited northern Washington County two centuries ago we would have met Atfalati hunters and wizened Atfalati females gathering huckleberries from their “ancestral” berry bushes. Near Scappoose we would have encountered the longhouses of the wealthy Chinook Indians that fished the river. North of Tualatin Range, the Clatskanie Indians also hunted the mountains, fished for salmon and occasionally preyed upon those traveling up and down the river.  When the early traders arrived in the area and began trying to pin down the tribal claims to territory, they were aware of these geographic distinctions. As a consequence, they quickly equated these partitions to the European concept of territory. But this geographic interpretation utterly missed the essence of the Indian concept of “Illahee” – the closest concept the Indians had to our notion of territorial sovereignty.  Asking an Indian how far his “home territory” extended was akin to asking someone how big his or her family was. Quite literally this question would elicit puzzlement, and the Indian would ask whether the inquirer wanted to include cousins, second cousins, in-laws, or even in-laws’ relatives. Like “spheres of influence” their concept of ownership, “Illahee” rested on the strength of the personal ties – not on geographic characteristics. Their concept of Illahee was based on a linear concept of linkages that describe the extent of their influence, not a specific physical distance or any relationship to physical features in the landscape, like mountains and rivers.

Using the Indian framework of “Illahee” , the concept of territory was quite inclusive, but at the same time variable over time. Illahee derived its definition from a complex network of personal relationships, including multiple kinship ties that shifted with births, deaths and inter-tribal marriages. The Atfalati (a band of the Kalapuyan Indians) from Washington County were known to travel through the Coastal Mountains to trade with the Tillamooks for fish, whale meat and abalone shells. It is reported[1] that the local Chinookans strictly limited the Atfalati’s fishing rights around the Willamette Falls. But further down the Columbia River, they were granted the right to hunt seals in the “Chinookan” waters of the Lower Columbia River. In return the Chinookans were allowed to hunt for elk and deer on the northern slopes of Washington County.

The Illahee framework was primarily based on the right of primary usage, or “usufruct rights”. It applied to prime camas growing plots, high yield fishing sites, wapato ponds and even particularly bountiful huckleberry patches. These rights were typically allocated to family groups, but in fact they were often extended by marriage and mutual agreement.

It is no wonder then that the European attempts to carve out physically restricted areas both for themselves and for the remaining Indians foundered, because these two approaches to “ownership” were so utterly alien to each other, that there was no way to bridge the cultural divide. Unfortunately, the malaria epidemics of the mid-1800’s removed most of the remaining natives and the issue became moot.

But for those of us that explore different ways that people organize themselves and define their interactions with nature, “Illahee” represents a different way to relate with our natural surroundings. Food for thought?

[1] Oregon and the Collapse of Illahee, Gray H. Whaley, University of North Carolina press, 2010, page 8.

Posted in Indian lore, Lower Columbia Trails, Pioneer Lore | 3 Comments

The river that connects us; the river that divides us.

My fascination with history derives from the fact that in immersing myself in the accounts of long gone days, I am occasionally confronted with perspectives and insights that literally twist our world around.

Today the landscape near the confluence of the Willamette and Columbia Rivers is dominated by the I-5 and I-84 corridors that link the Portland area with the rest of the Pacific Northwest. In subtle ways, the grid lines of these arterials establish where we are by redefining our accessibility. All our travel flows through these hard-wired circuits. The organic connections that for over a century linked our communities along the Lower Columbia River have entirely disappeared.

Today no one is surprised to find Scappoose’s sports teams competing with Oregon teams from Tualatin, Oregon City and Salem. But this is just a recent development. Until 1908 Scappoose’s rivals were located right in Ridgefield and Kalama – both on the other side of the river in Washington.  Grange hall dances in Oregon’s hilltop communities often featured frantic drives down off the heights, lights flashing, horns blaring, trying to catch  the last cross-river ferry.

Kalama, Kelso and Cowlitz on the Washington shore enjoyed close ties with Oregon’s Scappoose, St. Helens and Goble  as ferries, paddle boats and steamers crisscrossed the river in a continuous tangle of commerce and human affairs. Traffic flowed on the river seamlessly stitching towns and communities together.

All this changed in 1908 when the railroad bridge between Portland and Vancouver was completed and the line was expanded to Kalama. Up until this time, train traffic had passed northward along the Oregon side of the river. At Goble the entire train was loaded on to The Tacoma, a 1,362 ton train carrier that could accommodate 21 cars and the locomotive.  For over 24 years The Tacoma was the critical link that connected the only rail line carrying freight north into the Puget Sound area.  But in October, 1908 the new rail bridge in Vancouver suddenly disconnected the Oregon side of the Lower Columbia from the main stream of commerce heading north. By Christmas day, The Tacoma had made its last crossing.

For a few years smaller ferries still continued to ply the river shuttling residents from the Lower Columbia River to their cross-river neighbors or to intercept the trains heading back and forth between Portland and Seattle. But with the construction of the Longview to Rainier bridge even that remnant of cross-river traffic eventually dried up.

The river that had once been a seam holding the Lower Columbia communities together, now became a partition that estranged these communities from each other, like relatives that have moved across country, or in-laws from a prior marriage. With the coming of the railroad and later the Interstate highway, an ancient geographic paradigm that had carved the tracks of human intercourse in this region was replaced, virtually overnight, by a new configuration that completely obliterated even the memory of what had existed before.

Posted in Lower Columbia Trails, Railroads, Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Tales from the Salmonberry River

Tales from the Salmonberry River

There is a 21-mile long canyon that cuts through the heart of the Oregon Coast Range from Washington County to Nehalem Bay. It is a wild and violent place where brutal storms, fresh off the North Pacific hurl themselves at the coastal mountains with a momentum and brute determination born of the Pacific vastness from which they were spawned.

In 1911 the Pacific Railroad and Navigation Company completed a rail connection from Washington County to Tillamook using the narrow passage afforded by the gorge carved out by the Salmonberry River Valley. Tillamook lay in one of the most inaccessible locations on the North Oregon Coast. It was equally inaccessible from the mouth of the Columbia River, as it was from the Willamette Valley. This link was essential to sustain the vital arteries of Tillamook’s industry, enabling resources to reach markets, and people to travel reliably.

Yet the rail link came at a high cost. Storm damage and constant geological movement constantly so plagued the P.R & N. that the locals took to calling it the “Punk, Rotten and Nasty”.  A little more than a year after rail service was first launched, nature took it’s first swipe at the railroad that snaked down the Salmonberry River. Early January 1913, rough winter weather and snow triggered a host of slides that cut rail service to Tillamook for more than 35 days.

The break in rail service was dramatic leaving people stranded away from home and resources. Towards the end of that first week in 1913, a group of eight stranded Tillamook residents assembled in Portland and decided to get back to Tillamook, regardless of what it took.

Leaving Portland early on Friday, the party of seven men and one woman reached Timber around mid-day. Their plan was to follow the railroad right-of-way all the way to the coast. But rail service had been discontinued several days earlier and no one knew how much of the railway line had been swept away by the raging storm. And yet, after eating a meal in Timber, they set out on foot determined to reach Tillamook. Nightfall found them still deep in the canyon and they were forced to bivouac in a deserted cabin. With only two sandwiches between them, dinner did little to dent their appetites. Seeking refuge in the partially collapsed cabin the party tried to sleep, but the cold fog that enveloped them kept them shivering most of the night.

The next morning they set off early and soon arrived at a railroad camp where they managed to secure some breakfast before resuming their long and arduous trek to the coast. In all they reported crossing eight to ten slides. Of these, three were particularly difficult to traverse. In three different places, the track, rails and all had been swept into the river. In some place the fill that had been laid down to support the rail bed had been washed away leaving the rail line dangling in the air. About three miles above the tiny settlement of Enright, they encountered a slide that had obliterated the track for more than 300 feet covering the entire stretch with tons of dirt and rock. Below Enright the track was covered with loose dirt and mud sometimes reaching over eight feet in depth.

Eventually, the exhausted party reached the forward work party that was clearing the line from the coast. From there the bedraggled party were carried out to Wheeler on Nehalem Bay and eventually the P.R & N acceded to the travelers’ exhausted pleas to be carried on to Tillamook. No doubt this was a journey whose story was retold over the years to underscore the determination and grit of the local inhabitants.

While the ordeal was finally over for Mrs. Johnson and her 7 male companions, the community was to suffer an extended ordeal as repeated storms kept creating new slides, destroying the repairs already made, and burying the steam shovels under tons of rock and mud. In the end, it took them 36 days to restore the rail link. At one point the line was finally opened, but within three hours the next landslide took out another 60 ft. chunk of rails. When the Portland train finally made it through the ravaged gorge to reach Tillamook it was received by a jubilant crowd.  By that time, the outgoing mail was piling up and Tillamook was running low on staples, fresh food, medicines, whiskey and even the fuel for the steam engines.

In those early days it was an epic struggle between the burgeoning township of Tillamook and the powerful forces that that visited such violent weather upon them. The efforts by the rail crews to keep the line open were truly herculean, but nature often responded with violent repercussions. The Salmonberry struck back just as soon as they finally restored service.

It happened in the steep confines of the Wolf Creek Canyon. There on the level ground near the creek side, the railroad builders had built their temporary quarters. On either side the ravine’s steep walls climbed a thousand feet to the rim of the forest above. Up on the edge of the ravine two ancient Douglas fir stalwarts bent valiantly to resist the push of the rain-soaked wind, and the pull of the earth softening under them as they slowly twisted on the very brink and toppled majestically into the abyss. They fell in an arc so that they pitched completely over smashing directly through the two houses cowering on the valley floor.

In the first lived the section foreman, William Conley, as well as the cook, his wife and their seven-year-old girl. The crash occurred around 5:30 AM in the wet grey dawn. Both men had already risen and were sipping their coffee in the early morning. They must have heard the agonized creaking as two massive trees slowly pitched end-over-end off the plateau rim 500 feet above them. The foreman’s house was hit in the middle. Louis Dudley, the cook was killed immediately, but Conley lay mortally wounded and pinned down by the giant tree.

Unhurt by the crushed central portion of the house, Mrs. Dudley quickly went to the aid of the little girl who had been sleeping at the far end of the house, beyond the fallen tree. Calling for Louis Dudley brought no responses beyond the agonized moans of Mr. Conley, the stricken foreman. Dressed only in their night gowns the woman and little girl climbed out of the wrecked house. A little way beyond lay the demolished shack occupied by some Japanese laborers, one of whom had also perished. With the wet coastal snow as deep as their waists Mrs. Dudley let loose a bellow for help – hoping to attract the assistance of the Greeks and Italians that were camped just a short way down the line.

Eventually, they did arrive, but not to render aid it seems. They quickly looted the foreman’s house and rifled Mrs. Dudley’s valise stealing her entire savings, a tidy sum of $110.00. But then they left, leaving the two women shivering in the snow. But by now the bridge crew was arriving and they did come to her succor. She and the surviving girl were taken to a local hostelry where they were helped to recuperate. Dr Hawk was summoned. The dead Japanese laborer was bundled off and the injured Conley was carefully transported out of the canyon to down into Washington County.

This was just the first of many violent eruptions that the railroad’s builders had to contend with. After the storms of 1996, scientists brought out pictures that showed the ravine stripped to it roots. In 2007, the northern slope gave way and created a giant slide whose repair would have cost more than $4 million. One has to wonder how many more times it will take to convince us that you shouldn’t “fool with mother nature”!

Posted in Coastal Trails, Railroads, Salmonberry Trails | 2 Comments

Moonshining along the Lower Columbia River.

Usually the banks of the Nehalem river are the very picture of pastoral peace and quiet, especially down on the old Warren Smith Farm near Pittsburg. In particular, the chickens sauntering around their pen in the small clearing along the Nehalem were very satisfied. Not only did they get plenty of scraps brought down from the farmhouse, but they often were treated to an absolutely awesome mash that soon had the whole roost clucking and bumping into each other as they waddled dizzily around their pen. Some had even been known to fall off the ramp leading inside.

But on this particular Monday afternoon in mid-April of 1929, the rooster and his chickens were suddenly interrupted in their leisurely pursuits when cars began to come flying down the dirt road with sirens blaring. Several Columbia County police officers, aided by state and federal prohibition officers exploded out of their cars and began rushing the apparently undefended chicken shack. The chickens temporarily stopped their purposeful examination of sundry pebbles and bugs masquerading as pebbles. The rooster did not have a warm and fuzzy feeling about this unexpected activity, especially sensing the determination of these intruders. Rising on his toes he began to wind up to his best and most impressive cock-a-doodle-do. But Sheriff Weed and his Deputy Calhoun, along with their state and federal phalanx stampeded the poultry defenders, who panicked and fled squawking up their ramp to safety.

The prohibition officers, Sheriff Weed and Deputy Calhoun bounded up the stairs to confront H.W. Dalplian and his son-in-law, Lester McConkey – both of whom were apparently busy distilling the current batch of moonshine in their 300 gallon “Kentucky” style still.

In addition to the considerable distillation equipment found on the premises, the flying squad also secured another 15 vats that held more than 2300 gallons of mash in various stages of conversion into alcohol.  They confiscated 50 gallons of yeast, fifty gallons of malt, several sacks of sugar. The arresting officers also reported that they secured a “considerable quantity” of finished and bottled moonshine in a separate building. There was no estimate of how much market-ready booze they confiscated. Thankfully, no one took note of the chickens’ participation in all these shenanigans and consequently they were allowed to remain in the chicken pen – under indefinite detention.

It appears that during the prohibition days of 1916-1933 “moonshining” was prevalent in the mountainous regions of northwestern Oregon. Unlike their Southern brethren that used corn, Oregon moonshiners used rye and added cane sugar. It was said by some of the more successful moonshiners that this approach produced a better product, and it was quicker – always a consideration when you’re trying to stay ahead of the law.

One anecdote tells of an enterprising moonshiner that built his operation into the charred remains of a massive old growth stump. When it gave off steam during the distillation process, it simply appeared as if the tree was still smoldering. Another early entrepreneur  built his “store” underneath a bridge on Bonny Slope.  From time to time, a car would casually stop on the bridge. The driver would open his door and tap on the wooden planks. A panel would slide open revealing the proprietor. Money would exchange hands as bottles of booze were hoisted aloft.

There were plenty of isolated barns, remote compounds and an abundance of forests in which to hid “moonshining” all across Columbia County, much of northwestern Multnomah County and northern Washington County. Most of the activity was organized by Portland moonshine gangs, like the Bill Smith Gang that operated a still on the Multnomah and Columbia County line. In Dutch Canyon, gang members George Davies and “Peanuts” Austin were apprehended operating an eighty gallon still  on South Scappoose Creek. According to the arresting officer, the operation was about four miles from Scappoose located deep in Dutch Canyon. The Deputy noted the convenience of  “an excellent road [that] leads right to the steps of the shack.”

Dixie Mountain had its share of illicit distillers that maintained operations buried deep in  in the tangled headwaters of  Crabapple Creek or Raymond Creek. And there were also several reports of a “six-gun tottin’ Tessie” who set up camp behind the Sophie Mozee homestead and was guarding her still with all the caliber she had. Closer to Portland, the village of Burlington prospered with several speak-easy facilities and an imposing bordello across the way. Linnton’s switch-back road system was said to be intentionally laid out in such a way as to provide the hill top residents the most time to hide their elicit enterprises.

Though we’re tempted these days to romanticize this desperate way of life, we should keep in mind how much this criminalization of liquor affected the health of the community. Help of any kind was hard to find for the wives and children that were left behind when the boot-legging father went to jail. Even the charitable organizations and the county health services were reluctant to help support these indigents, lest their aid be construed as encouragement for those that rely on outlaw income. The typical sentence for a moonshiner (usually the owner of the land) was $500 and a 30 day sentence. His assistant would just get a $500 fine, but typically being unable to pay he would end up languishing alongside his boss in the county’s “hostelry”.


Posted in Lower Columbia Trails, Misc Trails & Trips, Moonshine Trails and Tales, Pioneer Lore, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Kerfuffle in the St. Helens Schoolyard.

When Judge McBride became the St. Helens schoolmaster in 1866, the school was a  low-slung log cabin located alongside a swamp which, according to the pupils, “was prolific of green slime, mosquitoes and ague”.

At the time, St.Helens had only about seven families which meant that many of the children walked in from the surrounding wilderness. The Knox family sent over their contingent of pupils from Sauvie island by skiff. Both the Perry kids and the Watts’ children hiked from their homesteads – always accompanied by a large dog designed to discourage cougar encounters. Given the small amount of land that had been “tamed” by that time, it was not uncommon to encounter Oregon’s big cats and the early settlers relied on big dogs to protect their homesteads and their wandering offspring.

But once arrived at school, the dogs were kept in the schoolyard where they spend their time engaged in ferocious contests of growling, brawling and otherwise making such a ruckus that it was all but impossible to keep the children engaged with learning their “three R’s: reading, riting and reckoning.” Judge McBride had never allowed such uncouth behavior in his court, nor was he about to tolerate it in his school. So he finally responded to the mayhem with a decree that he conveyed homewards with the children. From that day forth all the dogs were to stay at home and not accompany the children to their school!

But that did not sit well with the families whose residences lay beyond the fringe of the forests, and whose youngest now had to brave the journey without their trusted canine minders. The outcry was immediate and unconditional; they would not abide by the prohibition since it put the lives of their children at considerable risk. While the immediate environs of St. Helens might occasionally see stray bears and other varmits, cougars were no longer a danger to the townsfolk. But for the homesteaders, cougars were a constant threat to their livestock, pets and their children. This uneasy coexistence of mountain lions and people was not ameliorated by the cats’ uncanny tendency to stealthily track humans – a phenomenon that endures into the present day.

For a week, the battle raged. McBride thundered outrage and demanded a suitably contemplative and uninterrupted atmosphere in which to conduct his instruction, and the dogs continued to attend school with undiminished pugilistic fervor. But just when McBride thought things couldn’t get worse, the yowls and growls escalated into a crescendo “troppo fortissimo!” All hell had broken loose outside! Everyone rushed out the door only to find the dogs ranged all around a giant cedar that grew from the center of the school yard towering over the rustic cabin. McBride and his students came to a sudden stop as they followed the dogs’ rapt attention to the drama unfolding overhead. There directly over the roof of the little school hung a huge black bear.

There was no getting around the situation, so Judge McBride marched down the hill to the nearest farmhouse, borrowed a rifle and promptly dispatched the bear in front of his adoring pupils. The issue of dogs attending school was never mentioned again.

Postscript: In 2013 an animal handler was killed by a captive cougar while cleaning their cage in Oregon’s WildCat Haven Sanctuary. Despite the numerous encounters since the days of the pioneers there never has been, a case of human mortality caused by a wild cougar in Oregon.




Posted in Animal lore, Lower Columbia Trails, Pioneer Lore, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Be careful what you ask for.

In the mid- 1800’s when the settlements on the lower Columbia River and in the Nehalem Valley were just beginning to proliferate, it was the practice to bring in a preacher to officiate at local marriages – and thus the opportunity to get married was only infrequently available.

It was this fact, that motivated Eunice Huntington to convince her beau to attend the marriage of Charles Fox in Rainier. By all accounts is was a joyous occasion, but near the end of the festivities the preacher asked if anyone else would like to take advantage of his presence, since he did not plan to return to Rainier for another half-year.

At this point Eunice stepped forth and announced that she was ready to be wed, but unfortunately her beau was somewhat less enthusiastic since he hadn’t accumulated a sufficient “stake” to offer her. Perhaps, thinking he could bide his time, he declined and was seen exiting the hall shortly thereafter.

But the local stage driver, Henry Windsor had no such compunctions and immediately offered his hand. In less time than it takes to read this account the two were married. Eunice’s father was furious! And then to make matters infinitely worse, it turned out that Henry was already married to a women he had left in the east. But that was soon sorted out when it was confirmed that the ex-wife had died. According to the contemporary accounts, this news interrupted the bride’s family plans to annul the marriage and the recently widowed Henry Windsor was eventually accepted into the Huntington family.

Eunice had come to Rainier in 1848, crossing the prairies with her family at the age of 13. Henry turned out to be quite the businessman, and he eventually controlled much of the stage business between the Cowlitz River and the Puget Sound. In 1903 the couple celebrated their Golden Wedding Anniversary! You might say things turned out rather well for Eunice, considering the unexpected turn of events.

Posted in Lower Columbia Trails, Pioneer Lore, Uncategorized | 1 Comment