Ore­gon grieves loss of its nat­u­ral places

Arab Times - - SCIENCE -

DETROIT LAKE, Ore, Sept 24, (AP): Ore­go­ni­ans are griev­ing the loss of some of their most trea­sured nat­u­ral places af­ter wild­fires wiped out camp­grounds, hot springs and wooded re­treats that have been touch­stones for gen­er­a­tions in a state known for its un­spoiled beauty.

The flames that de­stroyed hun­dreds of homes and killed at least nine peo­ple also en­croached on beloved state parks, scorched some of Ore­gon’s best-known hik­ing trails and raged through a whitewater raft­ing hub.

“Na­ture is the icon in Ore­gon. We have this col­lec­tive grief and some of that is (from) grow­ing up here,” said Eden Dawn, an edi­tor at Port­land Monthly mag­a­zine who wrote an es­say about the wild­fires. “We just didn’t have New York City. We didn’t have Hol­ly­wood. We didn’t have these big fancy things, and Port­land wasn’t cool un­til a few years ago.”

The fires da­m­aged one of the na­tion’s last low-el­e­va­tion, old­growth forests, which in­cludes Dou­glas fir trees up to 1,000 years old. A for­est cen­ter built on the ru­ins of an old min­ing town that hosted thou­sands of Ore­gon chil­dren was largely re­duced to ashes.

“My mem­o­ries of grow­ing up are sit­ting in a river and look­ing at the fish go by and spot­ting os­prey around you,” Dawn said. “In this mo­ment, when you’re watch­ing your state and your child­hood burn, it’s ut­ter hope­less­ness. There’s re­ally noth­ing you can do – and that is the feel­ing we’re all feel­ing.”

Detroit Lake, a state park south of Port­land founded in the 1950s, sus­tained dam­age to its camp­ground, and it’s un­clear if the tiny town along its shores will re­build. Cedars Restau­rant & Lounge, a fa­mous stop­ping point for peo­ple trav­el­ing to the high desert of cen­tral Ore­gon or for those re­turn­ing from back­pack­ing in the sur­round­ing wilder­ness, is also gone.


“It’s a life full of mem­o­ries and his­tory, gone. We used to ski and boat ev­ery sin­gle day af­ter I got off work all through the sum­mer,” said Sandi El­wood, who was born and raised on Detroit Lake and worked for nearly a decade at the Cedars, from the age of 14. “I learned to swim in that lake all by my­self with no swim­ming in­struc­tor.”

Ore­gon State Parks said Mon­day that 900 acres (364 hectares) within var­i­ous parks had burned. The worst hit was Col­lier Me­mo­rial State Park near Kla­math Falls, which lost 400 acres (162 hectares) of pon­derosa pine and a his­toric cabin.

A string of tiny towns along nearby High­way 22 pro­vided a launch­ing pad for hik­ers ex­plor­ing the old-growth forests and for fish­er­men headed to prime des­ti­na­tions along the North San­tiam River and its trib­u­taries. Those com­mu­ni­ties have been largely re­duced to ashes. Fish­er­man’s Bend, a fa­vorite fish­ing and recre­ation area, is gone too.

“It’s dif­fi­cult to over­state how emo­tion­ally im­pact­ful this is for peo­ple who love the land in those places, whether they’re lo­cals or they’re peo­ple who would only visit it once a year,” said Steve Ped­ery of Ore­gon Wild. “These places are sanc­tu­ar­ies for peo­ple try­ing to find a lit­tle bit of peace and soli­tude in na­ture and the mod­ern world.”

Fire also tore through Jef­fer­son Park, a pop­u­lar alpine back­pack­ing des­ti­na­tion on the flanks of Mount Jef­fer­son. The flames crept to the edges of Sil­ver Falls – one of Ore­gon’s most pop­u­lar state parks and its largest – and burned up half the build­ings at Bre­it­en­bush Hot Springs, a for­est re­treat where Ore­go­ni­ans bathed nude in nat­u­ral hot springs, sat in saunas and prac­ticed yoga.


Fur­ther south, an­other in­ferno lev­eled the town of Blue River, east of Eu­gene, and singed the forests around the McKen­zie River, a premier whitewater raft­ing des­ti­na­tion that at­tracts tourists from around the na­tion.

“So this is just a beau­ti­ful river cor­ri­dor and ... some re­ally beau­ti­ful stretches and beau­ti­ful views, and that will be very dif­fer­ent,” said Chan­dra LeGue, west­ern Ore­gon field co­or­di­na­tor for Ore­gon Wild. “And it will have an im­pact on busi­nesses and river guides for years to come.”

The big­gest worry for many en­vi­ron­men­tal­ists is the con­di­tion of the old-growth for­est known as the Opal Creek Wilder­ness. Be­fore the fire, hik­ers who vis­ited the 36 miles of trails were re­warded with views of trees that were hun­dreds of years old with bark 6 inches thick. Deep, clear blue pools at Opal Creek were invit­ing on a hot day.

Anx­i­ety over the con­di­tion of the for­est has been am­pli­fied by the news that Ge­orge Atiyeh, a sto­ried log­ger-turned-con­ser­va­tion­ist who was in­stru­men­tal in sav­ing the for­est, died in the blaze.

Stud­ies of ash and car­bon lay­ers show that the area burned at least twice be­fore, in the 1500s and the 1800s. But the con­di­tions this time were so dry and hot, with fierce winds push­ing burn­ing em­bers a mile ahead of the fire line, that the for­est’s fu­ture is un­cer­tain.

“It’s a special place. It’s a place that grabs you, and it’s a mag­i­cal place for so many peo­ple,” said Dwayne Can­field, the ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the Opal Creek An­cient For­est Cen­ter, which is housed in the old min­ing town and hosted 3,000 Ore­gon school­child­ren a year.

Aerial pho­tos taken Sun­day by the US For­est Ser­vice show the fire burned the trees but hop­scotched around, leav­ing patches of green among the black. That type of burn – a so-called mo­saic pat­tern – is en­cour­ag­ing be­cause it means the old-growth will likely re­cover but not quickly, Can­field said.

“The for­est lives on time scales much longer than hu­mans do, and so I’m sure much of the for­est will sur­vive and re­cover, and it will be there for fu­ture gen­er­a­tions,” he said. “But for the peo­ple liv­ing now, it’s go­ing to be a long time be­fore it’s any­thing like it used to be.”


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