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

Shellburg Falls is ready for its closeup

Shellburg Falls, the popular Santiam Canyon destination for hikers and mountain bikers, is back on the map.

The recreation area, which closed when the 2020 wildfires damaged one-third of the Santiam State Forest’s total acreage, reopens to the public today.

The Canyon Weekly participated in a media tour on May 9, and the area has not lost any of its allure.          

Some areas in the trail system received little or no fire damage. There are new bridges, trailheads and other amenities, and navigating the region is a deja vu-like experience. Some vistas seem completely new and some align with your memory.

“I’m amazed at how much work has taken place,” said Joe Offer, recreation programs manager for the Oregon Department of Forestry, which organized the May 9 tour. “Week by week and month by month, things just kept getting better.”

Because recreation is a little bit of a ways down the organizational chart of the ODF, which supervises nearly 650,000 acres of forest property, Offer didn’t have a lot of help. So he took the road most often taken these days in outdoor projects – he put out a plea for volunteers.

Trailkeepers of Oregon, the Salem Area Trail Alliance and Cascade Volunteers all answered the call, and Marion resident Tom Brauner of Trailkeepers of Oregon Marion was on hand riding his own tractor when the tour hit the main parking lot at Shellburg.

Brauner proudly described the challenges of rebuilding a bridge between the trailhead and the falls. More than 100 tons of rock was moved around, most of it by hand or wheelbarrow, and the trees were too scarred and unsteady to use for high line ropes to assist in positioning the lumber.

His work all but finished at Shellburg, Brauner plans to take his tractor just a few miles east for a four-week stint on the Pacific Crest Trail.

Offer stood in the middle of a gravel road that bisected what used to be the Shellburg campground and noted that “it will be interesting to see how wildlife responds (to the opening). The critters aren’t used to seeing people around.”

How the forest reacts is another question to be determined. A mixed forest of conifers and other tree types doesn’t necessarily grow back with the same mix of trees. Nature usually picks its own path.

A large covered picnic shelter that sat in the center of the campground miraculously survived the fire and is ready for use with a half-dozen new picnic tables.

New trailheads, new signs, new picnic tables and kiosks abound at the new Shellburg Falls. Camping is out for an indefinite period. Offer said the ODF has concerns about fires. The site is kind of off the beaten path and it was a 7-mile drive on a gravel road from Highway 22, so it presents a challenge for staff to get to the camping area in an emergency.

That same 7-mile drive, using Wagner Road, will be the path that hikers and bikers must take moving forward. Forget about that convenient trailhead off of Fern Ridge Road; it’s not coming back.

The falls themselves did not disappoint. There is a nice viewpoint from the ridgeline above the falls in a slightly realigned trail. The jumble of rocks and trees and debris that used to sit at the bottom of the falls seems as if it has been rearranged and there is no access behind the falls in the new configuration. A fence, a sign and some slash piles block the old path. Offer was asked about the challenge of hikers going off trail.

“We are hoping that people will be respectful, but we’ll see how it goes,” Offer said. “We’re still working on our enforcement plan.”

The lower falls also were running fast during the tour, and the spot also has some nice views down the valley as well as trail connections to the August Mountain and Vine Maple Loop trails. The connectivity between Shellburg and Silver Falls State Park has changed slightly. Hikers and bikers can no longer access Shellburg from Lookout Mountain Road at the south end of the park, but they can from the Lost Creek Trail.

“This has been quite the project,” Offer said. “A lot of physical labor was involved to get things cleaned up and rebuilt.”

Previous Article

Testimony of PacifiCorp CEO sought in fire death suits

Next Article

Officials caution Detroit Lake users on logs, debris

You might be interested in …

The city of Detroit has been discussing how many RVs should be allowed on residential lots. The City Council passed the code package that includes the RV limits at its Oct. 10 meeting. file photo

Detroit code OK’d on 5-2 vote

The polarizing Detroit development code update is one step closer to taking effect. The City Council on a 5-2 vote on Oct. 10, passed the first reading of an ordinance that would rework its code, […]

Local scholarships available to seniors

Stayton Area Rotary Scholarship – Stayton Rotary will award scholarships to seniors attending Santiam, Scio, Regis and Stayton high schools. Selection is based on academic and extra-curricular achievements. Applications must be received by 5 p.m. […]