With more than 900 acres of state parks land burned during September’s devastating wildfires, so park staff will soon begin on restoration
STATEWIDE – Oregon state park staff will be busy this fall and winter assessing damage and planning for short-term repairs and long-term restoration since more than 900 acres of state park land burned during September’s historic wildfires. Most of the burned park land occurred on undeveloped forest, but the fires did cause some damage to several parks, some of which will remain closed this winter. Opening dates and updates will be posted at stateparks.oregon.gov.
“Overall, state parks are in really good shape, and we look forward to reopening as soon as possible,” said OPRD Director Lisa Sumption.
Here’s an update on parks with fire-related damage and closures:
Campers and park staff had only 20 minutes to evacuate Collier Memorial State Park on the evening of Sep. 7. The air was already clouded with smoke when firefighters pulled into the park and pounded on the doors of the host trailers.
All staff and campers evacuated quickly and safely, just before hot, dry winds pushed the Two Four Two fire through the park that sits along the Williamson River near Chiloquin. The flames engulfed about 400 acres of ponderosa pines forest, but settled when they reached the campground. The fire burned through part of the logging museum that contains one of the largest collections of antique logging equipment in the country. Part of the logging museum and restroom are now open, and park staff will work with OPRD’s Heritage Division to restore two major pieces of equipment that were damaged.
Park manager Aaron Raines hopes to reopen the campground, some trails and river access in spring 2021, but it will be a large undertaking. Park rangers will spend the winter clearing debris, rebuilding trails and removing hazard trees in danger of falling around facilities.
Forest recovery will be a slow process. This winter, crews will salvage log dead and dying trees in preparation to replant some 76,000 seedlings.
Park Manager Guy Rodrigue was visiting family in the Midwest Labor Day weekend when the notice came through: Silver Falls State Park was right in the path of the Beachie Creek fire and the forecast called for extreme eastward winds. He jumped on the next flight to Oregon.
The following days were tense as staff and the community watched the fire cross into the southeast boundary of the park, fearing the worst. Park staff wrapped hoses around the historic South Falls Lodge, hoping to save just one remnant of the state park system’s crown jewel. The community pitched in, too: local farmers helped scout for fire with pump trucks, and local business owners volunteered equipment and staff to build fire lines.
Then, what seemed like a miracle happened: the wind shifted. The fire moved away from the park.
Ultimately, the fire damaged just a fraction of the park’s 9,000 acres. About 125 acres in the far southeast corner of the park is closed, along with portions of the mountain bike and equestrian trails that cross through the area. Those trails remain closed while crews rebuild trails and remove debris and hazard trees in danger of falling. Long term, staff will replant the burned area.
The most popular parts of the park are open: the Trail of Ten Falls, South Falls Day-use Area and the campground.
“It’s difficult to feel fortunate when so many others are still grappling with the loss of loved ones or their own special places,” Rodrigue said. “I’m glad that Silver Falls will be here in true form to help people heal from this tragedy or another.”
The campground was in the eye of the Santiam Canyon fires and will remain closed while park staff repair a damaged water tank that burned. The fire also burned some vegetation in the campground loops closest to the highway that will be replanted. Mongold Day-use Area is open.
The Beachie Creek Fire burned straight through this small, quiet park east of Salem. The fire burned 120 acres, charring the vegetation and a storage building but leaving the bathroom and picnic structures intact. Park staff will need to remove hazardous trees and repair other damage from the fire before the park is safe to open.
As you visit state parks with burned areas, it’s understandable to grieve over what’s lost because reforestation will take decades. However, burned landscapes left to regrow naturally are some of the richest and rarest in the Pacific Northwest. The landscape will adapt, just as it has in the past after wildfire. You can help forest thrive by staying on trails and leaving planting up to trained natural resource specialists.
Trails or park areas may be closed due to risk of falling trees. For your safety, do not enter closed areas.