News for those who live, work and play in the Santiam Canyon

$1.44 million to boost North Fork roads

Marion County will be working with $1.44 million in federal funds on road improvements in the North Fork area.

The money, earmarked for the region by Oregon’s congressional delegation, is designed to aid recovery from the 2020 wildfires, but the funds likely will be spent on new road infrastructure rather than repairing areas damaged by the fires, said Brian Nicholas, county public works director

“In the past, on hot summer days,” Nicholas told The Canyon Weekly, “the Little North Fork Santiam River has been overwhelmed with recreational visitors looking to spend time on the river, resulting in significant safety issues on North Fork Road and in the parks, trespassing on private property, inconvenience for area residents, degradation of park resources and other issues.”

North Fork Road, which is currently open only to property owners and agencies, veers slightly northeast from Highway 22 just beyond the turnoff for Mehama and Lyons and connects via Forest Service roads beyond Elkhorn to the Opal Creek Wilderness Area.

Nicholas said that county officials are trying to find ways to team with the corridor’s other agencies, including the U.S. Forest Service, the Bureau of Land Management and the Oregon Department of Forestry.

“We have been looking at ways all four agencies might be able to work together to manage these properties in a consistent and well-ordered manner, hopefully with reduced costs for everyone by using our collective staff resources more efficiently.” Nicholas. 

One simple example, cited by Nicholas, would be to send one truck up the Canyon to pick up garbage rather than a vehicle from each of the 4 agencies.

“Each of the cooperative opportunities we’ve looked at require an investment in infrastructure, and that’s what these funds are for,” Nicholas said. “Most likely we’ll use these funds to construct road infrastructure to help manage parking and the number of recreational visitors the corridor accommodates each day. 

“We haven’t developed any specific design solutions at this point because we have not engaged the public for input. Once these funds arrive, that will be the first point of order, to engage the public, including residents of the North Fork Road corridor, to discuss options for use of these funds in a way that meets community needs.”

No timeline yet exists for the outreach sessions or the work that will be performed with the federal funds.

One other possibility that Nicholas noted would be to develop information kiosks, manned booths, rideshare parking or other infrastructure, perhaps at the wide spot in the road about ¼ mile upstream from the highway where the first of the three temporary closure gates is located.

“That’s simply because the county owns a wide section of right-of-way in this area, so it would make sense to utilize that area for construction,” Nicholas said. “On the other hand, there were problems with illegal camping and river access at that location years ago, so the potential for those issues would need to be addressed.”

Nicholas also emphasized that there is no connection between the use of the $1.44 million in funds and a countywide process working to restore and upgrade Marion County park facilities in the entire Santiam Canyon corridor. These include North Fork Park, Bear Creek and Salmon Falls along North Fork Road and the North Santiam Recreation Area, Minto, Packsaddle and Niagara along Highway 22. North Santiam, which is the only one of the seven facilities that is open, will remain under state ownership, but Marion County is going to assume control of park operations. 

County parks officials are developing a plan for spending perhaps $1.5 million in Federal Emergency Management Agency funds on restoration and amenities upgrades at the seven sites in conjunction with the Marion County Parks Commission. A plan is expected to be forwarded to the Marion County Board of Commissioners in either June or July.


“Once these funds arrive, that will be the first point of order, to engage the public, including residents of the North Fork Road corridor, to discuss options for use of these funds in a way that meets community needs.”

– Brian Nicholas

county public works director

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