Wizard Falls by Daniel White

Celebrate and Stand Up for Oregon Rivers This National Rivers Month

June is a special time in Oregon. This month marks the end of the school year, the opening of campgrounds and higher elevation trails, and the beginning of outdoor summertime adventures. June is also National Rivers Month–a month to celebrate the incredible, wild, life-providing rivers across our nation and advocate for their protection and restoration. 

Oregon has more than its fair share of treasured rivers. From the turbulent rapids of the Deschutes, to the famous wild Rogue, the seemingly endless desert canyonlands of the Owyhee and John Day, and coastal rivers home to majestic, yet threatened, salmon and steelhead populations, Oregon rivers are as diverse as they are spectacular. Locals and visitors flock to these rivers to raft them, fish them, and hike along them, supporting hundreds of thousands of jobs and a $15 billion dollar outdoor recreation economy in Oregon. Rivers mean life–for the businesses that depend on them, the communities that source drinking water from them, the people who cherish them, and the fish and wildlife who call them home.  

For me, June means camping along the banks of the Metolius and casting green drake fly patterns to wild trout. For a few weeks in late-May and June (and again in the fall), masses of these large olive-colored mayflies will hatch into their adult form, sending any nearby trout into a feeding frenzy. If timed right, this hatch can provide a memorable day of fly fishing, the kind that attracts anglers from all over the world. Even for those who aren’t anglers, this hatch, with clouds of drakes emerging from the water and dozens of fish rising to greet them at any one time, is a spectacle that will bring awe to any who experience it. If you need proof that rivers are alive, this is it. 

While Oregon’s rivers provide unrivaled opportunities like this to experience nature and a functioning ecosystem, they also face urgent threats. Aggressive logging, climate change, mining, road construction, and development are among the most pressing issues. These threats pose risks to the many important values Oregon’s rivers provide, such as clean drinking water, critical fish and wildlife habitat, cultural uses, health and well-being, and world-renowned outdoor recreation. A 2022 report from the Environmental Integrity Project even found that Oregon has the most miles of impaired streams and rivers of any other state in the U.S., meaning those streams and rivers do not meet water quality standards for consumption, recreation, or aquatic life. 

Take Action for Oregon’s Rivers

The River Democracy Act

Fortunately, Senator Ron Wyden’s River Democracy Act presents us an opportunity to conserve many of our state’s threatened streams. This historic bill proposes to add over 3200 miles of Oregon rivers and streams from all corners of the state to the National Wild & Scenic Rivers System, ensuring these waterways are permanently protected for nature and future generations. Become a Citizen Co-Sponsor of the River Democracy Act and tell Senators Wyden and Merkley to get this bill passed through Congress!

Join an Oregon Wild-led Hike this Summer to an Oregon River

Watch Our Recent Webcast on Restoring Oregon’s Rivers

Liz Perkin with Native Fish Society joined us in May to talk about the impacts logging, dam construction, stream channelization, flood protection, and development have had on Oregon’s rivers and native fish populations, and current ongoing restoration efforts to reverse that damage. 

Watch the webcast here. 

Ahead of Memorial Day weekend and the busy summer season, a coalition of outfitters and guides is calling on Congress to pass critical legislation aimed at increasing safeguards for the Wild Rogue Wilderness. Thirteen guiding businesses that rely on the Rogue River for their operations sent a letter this week to Senators Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley, and Congresswoman Val Hoyle, urging them to protect the Rogue–one of Oregon’s greatest natural treasures.

The proposed Oregon Recreation Enhancement Act (S. 440) and the Wild Rogue Conservation and Recreation Enhancement Act (H.R. 7509) have been pending in Congress for over a decade, and these businesses say the time to act is now.

The Rogue River, renowned for its breathtaking scenery and untamed beauty, cuts through the Siskiyou Mountain Range and is one of Oregon’s premier recreational destinations. It draws tens of thousands of visitors each year, playing a vital role in the local economy.

Economic Impact of Outdoor Recreation

Outdoor recreation is a significant economic driver in Oregon. A recent study by Travel Oregon revealed that 95% of Oregonians participate in outdoor activities annually. In 2019, outdoor recreation generated $15.6 billion in spending and supported 224,000 jobs across the state. The ripple effect of this economic activity is particularly pronounced in rural areas like the Rogue River region, benefiting restaurants, hotels, recreation providers, and retail businesses.

A Legacy for Future Generations

Protecting the Wild Rogue Wilderness is about more than conserving land. It’s about preserving the legacy of natural beauty and adventure for future generations. By passing this legislation, Congress can ensure that our children and grandchildren have the opportunity to explore and enjoy these pristine lands just as we do today.

Supporting Voices

This letter was signed by a wide range of local outfitters and guides, all businesses that depend on the health of the Rogue River:

Zachary Collier, Northwest Rafting Company
Tim Thornton, River Drifters
Kelsey Helfrich, Helfrich River Outfitters
Tyler Wendt, The OARS Family of Companies
Brian Sykes, Ouzel Outfitters
Dave Lacey, South Coast Tours
Kait Sampsel, Humble Heron Fly Fishing
Hugh Hague, Noah’s Wilderness Adventures
Will Volpert, Indigo Creek Outfitters
Kory Mahr, Orange Torpedo Trips / Briggs Rogue River Trips
Pete Wallstrom, Momentum River Expeditions
Alyssa WarrenWood, Rogue Infinity Outfitters LLC
Peter and Jonah Grubb, ROW Adventures and Sea Kayak Adventures

Take Action

Join these businesses and hundreds of other Oregonians by taking action to support protections for the Wild Rogue

In celebration of Earth Week, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) unveiled its new Public Lands Rule! This new policy marks a significant milestone in the ongoing effort to protect our nation’s public lands. The Public Lands Rule elevates the importance of conservation alongside resource extraction activities like grazing and mining on BLM-managed lands, ensuring the preservation of vital ecosystems, wildlife habitats, and cultural resources for present and future generations.

The BLM oversees 245 million acres of public lands, more than any other land manager in the US. In Oregon, these landscapes include areas of incredible wonder like the Owyhee Canyonlands, the Greater Hart-Sheldon, and the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument, as well as two and a half million acres of backyard “O&C Lands” forests.

Opportunity for Underserved Communities

Once implemented, this rule holds promise for revitalizing and harmonizing the diverse interests on BLM land while also paying long-overdue attention to underserved communities. 

According to the America the Beautiful Coalition, which consists of over 250 organizations across the country–including Oregon Wild, the BLM manages more than 20 million unprotected acres within 10 miles of the most socially vulnerable and nature-deprived census tracts. “BLM lands offer tremendous opportunity to close the “nature gap” and address longstanding inequities.”

In addition to conserving public land, the rule provides new tools to engage with community-led and Tribal conservation proposals, restore degraded landscapes, and respond to climate change impacts. 

Industry Opposition to Conservation

Industry-backed politicians have opposed the Public Lands Rule, arguing against safeguarding public lands for wildlife, drinking water, recreation, and as a natural climate solution. Extractive industries like grazing, logging, and mining view public lands as theirs to degrade, leaving the public to clean up and deal with the consequences. 

These industries are also the ones that are contributing the most to climate change and habitat degradation. In an age of extinction and global warming, we know we need to do things differently, and our public lands are one of the best places to do that. The Public Lands Rule is an effort to strike a new balance.

Backyard Forests Left Out

One of the best solutions for fighting climate change – the protection of mature and old-growth forests on O&C lands – was elevated as an important natural climate solution in the Public Lands Rule, alongside habitat connectivity. While highlighting the importance of these essential natural climate solutions is laudable, the language is not something we can use to actually enforce protections for our mature and old-growth trees from the threat of logging. This is especially concerning considering the Oregon BLM continues to clearcut the forests they manage for profit, including aggressively logging of mature and rare old-growth trees.

Even though many of our favorite hiking trails are covered in snow, winter is still a great time to get out and enjoy Oregon’s wild places. From the iconic Crater Lake National Park to the well-maintained trail systems outside of Bend, the state offers a plethora of breathtaking snowshoeing destinations. In this blog post, we’ll guide you through five places to strap on your snowshoes and embark on a winter adventure through Oregon’s public lands. 

All the trails in this article follow streams that would be protected as Wild & Scenic under Senator Ron Wyden’s River Democracy Act. We may generally think of Wild & Scenic Rivers as summer destinations, but they can be just as–if not more–enchanting in the winter (with a fraction of the people!). These streams offer year-round recreation for Oregonians and visitors alike, and the River Democracy Act offers an incredible opportunity to protect these treasures for the invaluable benefits they provide to us and wildlife.

Tumalo Creek Falls

Located just outside of Bend, Tumalo Falls is one of central Oregon’s most visited destinations in the summer. In the winter, the out-and-back trail from Skyliner Sno-Park provides a perfect snowshoeing experience through a snow-laden forest alongside Tumalo Creek, with the reward of witnessing the majestic 97-foot waterfall framed by ice and snow. 

In addition to being home to one of the most scenic waterfalls in the area, the Tumalo Creek watershed also supplies clean drinking water to over 100,000 people in the city of Bend. The River Democracy Act would safeguard this local favorite for its water quality, scenic beauty, important wildlife habitat, and incredible recreation opportunities. 

  • Distance: 6 miles roundtrip
  • Difficulty: Moderate
  • How to get there: From Bend, travel west about 10 miles until you reach Skyliner Sno-Park. Follow the Tumalo Creek Trail west for about 3 miles until you reach the Falls. Alternatively, you can make it a loop by hiking back along the snow-covered road on the north side of Tumalo Creek.
  • Recreation passes/fees: Sno-Park pass

Salt Creek Falls

Situated just off State Highway 58 in the Willamette National Forest, Oregon’s second-highest waterfall–Salt Creek Falls– transforms into a mesmerizing icy spectacle during the winter months. The short Salt Creek Falls Trail offers stunning views of the 286-foot waterfall and includes observation areas at the top and bottom of the falls, providing ample photo opportunities along the way. 

For a longer loop hike, follow Salt Creek upstream until you reach the Diamond Creek Falls Trail, which takes snowshoers through a tranquil old-growth forest and provides viewpoints of Diamond Creek Falls and Salt Creek. Make sure to follow the trail markers (they look like blue diamonds), as route-finding can be more difficult when the trail is covered in snow. Read our blog post on snowshoeing at Salt Creek Falls and Diamond Creek Falls for more information about this snowshoe hike.

The River Democracy Act would protect over 14 miles of Salt Creek–including the falls–as Wild & Scenic, protecting the area for future generations to enjoy.

  • Distance:  About 1-mile roundtrip to Salt Creek Falls; 4.5 miles for the Diamond Creek Falls loop
  • Difficulty: Moderate-Difficult
  • How to get there: From Eugene, follow Highway 58 southeast through the town of Oakridge. Go another 23 miles, and about a mile past the tunnel, at mile post 57 and a sign for the Sno Park, turn right. Then turn left to cross a bridge and continue to the parking area, where you’ll find a vault toilet.
  • Recreation passes/fees: Sno-Park pass

Lost Creek/Old Maid Flat (Mount Hood)

As one of the most iconic peaks in the Pacific Northwest, Mount Hood transforms into a snowy playground during the winter months. Numerous sno-parks and trails in the area cater to snowshoers of varying skill levels. The scenic beauty, combined with the thrill of exploring the snow-covered slopes, makes Mount Hood a prime destination for winter adventurers.

One of the more off-the-beaten-path snowshoeing destinations in the area is Old Maid Flat in the Wild & Scenic Sandy River drainage. Lost Creek, a tributary of the Sandy River, would be protected as part of the River Democracy Act. This trail offers scenic views of the creek at the beginning and spectacular views of Mt. Hood along the way as Oregon’s tallest peak towers over the surrounding forest. This relatively easy snowshoe trail eventually becomes steep and difficult, and a nice turnaround point is just below the switchback where the Horseshoe Trail turns uphill and east. Make sure to bring a map and GPS to guide you as the trails and roads here are not well marked when covered in snow. 

Lost Creek and nearby Clear Fork are both included in the River Democracy Act.

  • Distance: About 3 miles roundtrip
  • Difficulty: Easy-Moderate
  • How to get there: From Highway 26 in Zigzag, turn north onto Lolo Pass Road and drive 4.5 miles to the sign for the Mt. Hood National Forest; turn right toward Ramona Falls and park where the plowing ends (this can vary sometimes depending on recent snowfall). Snowshoe on the snow-covered roads until you get to the Horseshoe Trailhead and head up the Horseshoe trail as far as you like. Lolo Pass road is not always plowed as quickly right after a storm, so you might want to give it a day or two before heading up after a big snow. 
  • Recreation passes/fees: None

Paulina Creek Falls

Nestled in Newberry National Volcanic Monument, Paulina Falls is a captivating winter destination for snowshoe enthusiasts. The Paulina Creek Falls Trail takes you through a serene forest, offering glimpses of the icy Paulina Creek and leading to the breathtaking viewpoint of the falls. When the falls are frozen over after several days of cold temperatures, it also becomes a popular ice-climbing destination! 

Follow the trail a little further past the falls to reach the outlet of Paulina Lake and enjoy the scenic splendor of a volcanic caldera turned winter wonderland. On weekends in the winter, the Paulina Lake Lodge restaurant is open to thaw you out with a hot drink or warm meal. Be wary of nearby snowmobiles.

Over 8 miles of Paulina Creek, from its source at Paulina Lake to near its confluence with the Little Deschutes River, would be protected by the River Democracy Act. 

  • Distance: About 7 miles roundtrip to Paulina Lake and back
  • Difficulty: Moderate-Difficult
  • Parking: 10 mile Sno-Park
  • Recreation passes/fees: Sno-Park pass

Hackleman Creek

For those seeking a quiet and secluded snowshoeing experience, Hackleman Creek offers a hidden gem in the Willamette National Forest. The Hackleman Old Growth Trail, accessible year-round, takes hikers through an enchanting old-growth forest of ancient Douglas fir giants and western red cedar. The peaceful ambiance, combined with the pristine beauty of the snow-covered landscape, creates a magical setting for winter exploration.

While this trail is right off the highway, use extra caution in route-finding as the trail and trail markers may be completely hidden under the snow. However, even while taking care to follow the trail, don’t forget to look at the expansive canopy of the forest above. 

The entire 7 miles of Hackleman Creek (and the surrounding old-growth forest) would be protected under the River Democracy Act. Despite its small size, the Hackleman drainage is home to an impressive array of biological diversity, including the Hackleman trout–a subspecies of cutthroat trout that only survives in this creek. Learn more about this unique and special watershed here.

  • Distance: 1 mile
  • Difficulty: Easy-Moderate
  • How to get there: Park just off the highway at the Hackleman Old Growth Grove Trailhead, about 2.5 miles east of Tombstone Pass on Highway 20. 
  • Recreation passes/fees: none

Snowshoeing is one of the easiest and safest ways to get out and enjoy Oregon’s public lands in winter. Even if you have hiked these areas in the summer, visiting in the winter can provide a whole new perspective! However, there are still hazards to watch out for while snowshoeing. Here are some tips to keep in mind:

  • Winter weather can be unpredictable! Be sure to check weather and road conditions (tripcheck.com) before heading out, and be prepared with snow tires, chains, and emergency gear if necessary.
  • Carry the 10 Essentials for Hiking (the winter version: add extra layers, hot cocoa, and extra warm gloves!)
  • You may be surprised at how warm you get while snowshoeing, bring plenty of warm clothing, but layer accordingly so you can remove some when necessary. Try to avoid getting sweaty as wet clothing can lead to hypothermia.

Lost Creek Falls, Mount Hood National Forest, Oregon

Oregon is renowned for its wild rivers, lush forests, and breathtaking landscapes. These natural wonders not only provide opportunities for recreation but also serve as the primary source of drinking water for a majority of the state’s population. In fact, approximately 71% of Oregonians rely on streams and rivers, referred to as “surface water sources,” for their drinking water.

However, Oregon’s surface waters are some of the most polluted in the nation, a result of widespread clearcut logging, agricultural runoff, mining, damming, and industrial development in watersheds. A 2022 report from the Environmental Integrity Project found that Oregon has the most miles of impaired rivers and streams in the nation. That means those rivers do not meet Clean Water Act standards for drinking water, recreation, or for aquatic life.

The River Democracy Act: A Beacon of Hope

We know that aggressive logging, mining, and dams can all pollute drinking water. But what can we do about it? 

Oregon Wild recently released a comprehensive report analyzing the significant positive impact the River Democracy Act would have on drinking water sources for communities across Oregon. This report highlights the potential role the River Democracy Act could play in safeguarding Oregon’s pristine rivers and watersheds, which are vital to the well-being of its residents and the state’s economy. We found that over 1.3 million Oregonians would receive increased protections to their drinking water under the River Democracy Act, including those who live in Eugene, Bend, Medford, much of Clackamas County, and many other communities all across the state. 

The River Democracy Act, introduced by Senators Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley, aims to designate 3,200 miles of Wild & Scenic Rivers across Oregon, increasing the percentage of Oregon’s waterways protected as Wild & Scenic from 2 to 5%. Protected watersheds are crucial to clean, safe drinking water, and many Oregonians–1,315,000 of them to be exact–will benefit from this important legislation.

By designating a buffer on each side of the river (either ¼ mile or ½ mile) Wild & Scenic River designations prevent new dam construction, new mining claims, clearcut logging, and other activities that would degrade the river’s water quality and natural values. Additionally, each Wild & Scenic river will have its own “Outstandingly Remarkable Values” (ORVs) identified. These values may include water quality (e.g. for clean drinking water), fish, wildlife, recreation, scenery, geology, cultural, wildness, or other values. Any activity that would degrade water quality or drinking water is prohibited in designated Wild & Scenic Rivers if “water quality” is listed as an ORV. 

Highlighted Drinking Watersheds in the Report

The River Democracy Act represents a critical step toward protecting Oregon’s clean drinking water. The report highlights a number of watersheds that would receive additional safeguards and the communities that would benefit from these increased protections, including but not limited to:

McKenzie River Watershed: 211,000 Oregonians

Tumalo Creek Watershed: 103,000 Oregonians

Rogue River Watershed: 140,000 Oregonians

Clackamas River Watershed: 317,000 Oregonians

Speak up for Oregon’s waters and communities

Healthy watersheds contribute significantly to Oregon’s rural and urban economies. Beyond providing safe, cost-effective drinking water, these waterways support local agriculture and Oregon’s thriving craft beer industry. The recreational opportunities along these waterways, from fishing to paddling, mountain biking to hiking, bolster Oregon’s outdoor recreation economy. The River Democracy Act doesn’t just protect water; it safeguards jobs, industries, and the well-being of our communities. Don’t just take our word for it, support for the bill includes over 50 local breweries, 250 additional Oregon businesses, 75 community organizations, 26 fisheries biologists, hunters and anglers, and thousands of Oregonians. 

While the River Democracy Act won’t solve all of our drinking water issues in Oregon, it is a bold step towards providing additional safeguards to drinking water for over a million people across the state.

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