Much of the Hood River conversation about natural resources and recreation access has lately focused on the recently approved rezoning of Morrison Park for affordable housing.
For many of us, however, the real crown jewel of close-in natural space and recreational potential is the 400 acres in the Powerdale corridor along the lower Hood River.
For a town named after a river, the river itself is pretty hard to reach. Tucked down in a steep canyon between Highway 35 and the eastern slope of the city, the river corridor has for years been a quiet getaway secret for locals.
Now that stretch of river is preparing for its coming out party. Removal of the Copper Dam and a halt to power generation by Pacific Corp. preceded transfer of title to the land in the corridor to the Columbia Land Trust (300 acres) and Hood River County (100 acres) in 2013.
After several years of quiet work by an advisory group, the Columbia Land Trust plans to introduce the public to its draft Powerdale Recreation and Access Plan on June 27. The rollout takes place from 6 to 8 p.m. at the Hood River Library.
Kate Conley, Natural Area Manager with Columbia Land Trust, said the planning process aimed first at protecting habitat and wildlife, and second at recreational use.
An extensive public outreach effort helped guide discussion about preferred points of entry to the corridor, and trails along the 3.5-mile stretch between the former dam site and the mothballed PacifiCorp generating station about a half-mile from Button Junction (Hwy 35 and Hwy 30).
For many years, PacifiCorp allowed public access to the river from a small parking lot near the power plant.
People would walk along the river bed, or use the cat-walk on top of the penstock.
Conley says the Land Trust is attempting to plan and define public uses within the bounds of a conservation easement for the property.
“Locals love the Powerdale section of the Hood River for fishing, walking, swimming or just enjoying nature close to home,” she said.
“But how many people know which public uses are really allowed, how that land is being managed, or even who owns it? Or how many know what changes might affect public access in the near future?”
She said the presentation on June 27 would help answer those questions, and let people share thoughts about the corridor.
Planners are trying to figure out whether to continue auto access to the lower corridor near the old power plant, and how to reestablish pedestrian access up to the former dam site. That site is inside the 100 acres under county management.
The access road crosses railroad tracks owned and operated by the Mt. Hood Railroad. The railroad follows the river through much of the corridor, which presents safety and trespass issues for river visitors.
Conley says the Powerdale Recreation and Access Plan “describes a vision for environmentally sensitive recreational use.”
She says “it is a living document” that will change over time in response to new information, conditions, and public input.
Conley says the planning process has four goals, as defined in the conservation easement:
- protect and enhance fish and wildlife habitat.
- retain existing recreational uses.
- expand recreational and educational uses so they don’t harm habitat.
- retain tribal fishing rights and sites.
“It’s kind of tricky,” Conley says. “We want to make it better for the current users, to avoid accidents, but at the same time, we probably won’t build a giant parking lot and invite every visitor on I-84 to stop in.”
People who want to take a preview of the plan can access it here.