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

Recovery, Recreation, Side by Side: Park access expands – slowly

The road is open, although a shiny metal gate paradoxically covers half of the entry road. Once you enter Fishermen’s Bend, a Bureau of Reclamation site just west of Mill City, you are directed, via a winding road bracketed by temporary fencing, to a day-use area along the North Santiam River.

The good news is that there are places to park both autos and boat trailers, river access, a few picnic tables and a double-wide porta-pottie.

Unavailable amid continuing restoration efforts from the 2020 Labor Day wildfires are Fishermen’s Bend’s 29 campsites and 21 RV sites as well as its permanent restroom and other amenities.

“We are working on getting more day use open as hazards are mitigated,” Traci Meredith, an outdoors planner with the BLM told The Canyon Weekly. 

“The site only has a porta-potty, no utilities. Once utilities are back up and running (water, power, sewer), we will charge our approved day-use fees. We do not have any date scheduled for opening for camping because we will be writing another recreation area management plan for the site that aligns to environmental policy changes and regulations.”

Fishermen’s Bend plays a key role in the put-in, put-out system rafters and kayakers use on the river. While that access is available, very little of the rest of the park is open, and when you drive that fenced-in road to the river you are surrounded by meadows, not forest land. Charred stumps and piles of slash are everywhere and one of the primary givens of summer recreation, shade, is not there. And won’t be for years to come.

The Fishermen’s Bend story is repeated throughout the Santiam Canyon, and local residents – as well as those elsewhere in the region and statewide looking for outdoor fun in the summer of 2022 — will find fewer opportunities and likely more competition for those opportunities that do exist.

The rule of thumb is that the closer the facility is to Highway 22 and the river the more likely it is to be open, at least in some fashion.

Take the United States Forest Services, for example. The USFS operates 20 facilities that we track in the Canyon, with 11 currently open and 9 closed, said Megan Crowder at the Detroit Ranger Station. Open are Southshore, Cove Creek, Cove Creek group, Detroit Flats, Hoover, Hoover Group, Santiam Flats, Whispering Falls, Riverside, Marion Forks and Big Meadows Horse Camp.

Shuttered are Three Pools, Shady Cove, Piety Island, Upper Arm, Humbug, Fox Creek Group, It is the USFS Breitenbush Campground that is closed, not the Breitenbush Hot Springs itself.  Breitenbush Hot Springs is recovering from wildfire damage and cannot yet offer its full complement of programs and activities.

More good news is that the facilities operated by the Canyon cities of Mehama, Lyons, Mill City, Gates and Idanha are open, with Mill City gearing up for $500,000-plus in revitalization and improvements at Mill City Falls Park. 

Also, Detroit Lake, the hub for Santiam Canyon recreation opportunities, is open for business, with the massive Detroit Lake State Park and its combined 271 camping/RV sites available for use, as is its Mongold day-use area.

Marion County is working on an extensive restoration/recreation plan for its seven facilities along the corridor. Only two, North Santiam and Packsaddle, are open, with Minto and Niagara looking at this point like salvage log stacking stations.

Perhaps the worst news is in the Little North Fork area, which took a brutal hit from the Beachie Creek Fire. Included on the list of closed-for-some-time facilities are Marion County facilities, BLM operations and those at nearby Opal Creek. 

On a positive note, the Santiam Horse Camp, a Santiam State Forest facility south of Gates, has reopened and is taking reservations. Go to reserveamerica.com and search for Santiam Horse Camp.

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