Saturday, August 18, 2012

Grand Island expedition

Grand Island State Park
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Today's adventure takes us to the Willamette River's Grand Island, just north of Salem, which is home to a picturesque little state park you probably haven't heard of. It goes by either "Grand Island State Park" or "Grand Island Access", but it doesn't appear by either name on most maps or guidebooks, or even on the state's main official list of the Willamette Valley state parks. I'll get to why this is in a minute, but first a bit about the place.

Grand Island State Park

The park is a small meadow on the south/upstream end of Grand Island, on a side channel of the Willamette where Lambert Slough splits off from the main stem of the river. It's mostly used as a river access point for boaters, although I should point out there's no boat ramp here, and you can certainly drive or bike to the park like I did, assuming you know it's here (note the big green arrow on the map above). There's a second State Parks sign facing the river so boaters know they're in the right spot. The park even has a fire pit and space to put up a tent, although apparently it's only legal to camp here if you arrive by boat. So if you bike to the park and decide to stay the night, you might want to pack an light inflatable raft or something to use as a decoy, and hope Officer Friendly isn't too curious about current river conditions. I'm not promising this would actually work, mind you.

Grand Island State Park

Grand Island as a whole is low, flat, and agricultural, and it's connected to the mainland by a single narrow bridge. It reminds me a lot of Sauvie Island, but without all the hordes of tourists. Surprisingly (and probably thanks to strict zoning laws) there aren't any bed and breakfasts, wine bars, twee antique shops, or any of the other touristy amenities that blanket much of the rural Willamette Valley. Even the Grand Island General Store is on the mainland, where the road to the island intersects OR-221. The island itself is just farms, one obscure state park, and nothing else as far as I can tell. For now, at least. There's a current proposal to begin mining gravel on the island, near the park. As you might expect local residents are quite unhappy about this. It seemed like every house I drove past had at least one Protect Grand Island sign out front. In May of this year the Yamhill County Commission voted 2-1 to let the mine go forward, so this fight is probably headed to the courts next.

There's also an Occupy Grand Island page on Facebook, though it seems to focus on the usual Occupy concerns and not so much on the gravel thing.

Grand Island State Park

As for why the park is so obscure, it turns out the place is part of the state's Willamette Greenway system, a collection of dozens of obscure parcels along the river that were purchased primarly during the 1970s at the behest of Gov. Tom McCall. (See this "Public Parcel Inventory" guide from 2004 for a partial list.) McCall proposed that the state own the entire stretch of Willamette riverbanks from end to end, which turned out to be both controversial and unaffordable. The legislature eventually pulled the plug on this idea, but not before the state had title to various bits and pieces of land along the river, including this spot, Wapato Greenway near Sauvie Island, and French Prairie just upstream of Wilsonville.

It's possible the state's downplayed the existence of these places because of the initial controversy, for fear of riling up crazy Tea Party militia types or something. A more boring possibility is that they've just fallen through the bureaucratic cracks somehow. It's ambiguous whether each greenway parcel is an official state park on its own, or a distributed part of a single very large (but still very obscure) state park, or something else entirely, and the whole greenway program probably falls under someone else's bailiwick within the state Parks Department, so including the list of greenway areas along with other state parks and having them show up on maps would probably involve years of meetings and millions of dollars just to figure out how to eventually pull it off someday. Grand Island State Park Grand Island State Park Grand Island State Park Grand Island State Park Grand Island State Park Grand Island State Park Grand Island State Park Grand Island State Park Grand Island State Park Grand Island State Park

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