Thursday, December 22, 2022

South Roadside Falls

So this post marks one of those extremely rare occasions where I actually wrap up a series of posts, without leaving any unfinished ones forgotten in Drafts or letting the project scope creep out of control so it can never finish at all. Or at least that will be true assuming I can get this one finished. This series covers a group of mostly-nameless seasonal waterfalls along the Sandy River stretch of the Historic Columbia River Highway. To recap, this was part of a mid-pandemic effort to find obscure and less-visited places to go, in order to get outside while avoiding all other human beings to the greatest possible degree. That worked out really well in a lot of places but not here, exactly, as people kept stopping to take photos of whatever I was taking photos of. Ok, technically it happened twice. So far we've had a look at:

And this one finishes the set, unless you count a couple of others that are so seasonal that they only seem to run literally in the middle of big winter storms. Which to me just doesn't seem worth pursuing.

Heightwise, given the top (167.75' / 162.25') and bottom (61.45' / 61.22'), the math says it's around 100.8 - 106.5 feet high. Which, possibly.

You might notice that the highway shoulder is especially wide along this stretch of road. It turns out the stretch of riverbank through here is a small Metro-owned public park, and it's here to provide public river access, specifically public fishing access. There aren't any signs around that say this, but there's plenty of room to park, and usually a car or truck or two parked here, so I guess enough people find out about the place by word of mouth. This is actually not the only spot like this; depending on whose map you look at there are either three (lettered A thru C) or five (numbered 1-5) of them, all on the east bank of the Sandy, and located between the Stark St. & Troutdale bridges.

And if this doesn't sound like a very Metro thing to do, you're absolutely right; these sites were part of the old Multnomah County park system before Metro absorbed it in 1994, and you can check out a 2008 post of mine for more than you probably care to know about that whole thing. I couldn't find any info on when the county may have purchased these places, the closest data point I have is a

a March 1963 Oregonian article about the county's ambitious new parks plan, with a map showing roughly where the county's new parks would be. Their focus at the time was on adding neighborhood parks to serve then-unincorporated parts of the county, and the only ones, current or proposed, east of the Sandy would have been neighborhood playground-type ones in the Springdale and Corbett areas. The river access parcels aren't mentioned and don't appear on the map, so either the county hadn't bought them yet, or river access fell under a separate budget category or a whole different department and didn't count.

As I understand it, the rationale behind these fishing spots is that the Sandy might be the best river for salmon in the region, and the stretch between the two bridges is possibly the best part of the river, and it would be undemocratic to have it limited people who can afford to own a boat, or build a house on the river. For many years the state prohibited fishing from boats anywhere upstream of the Stark St. bridge for similar reasons, the idea being boaters had an unfair advantage over people fishing on the riverbank when both were allowed. So when the state pushed the no-boats boundary back four miles to Oxbow Park in December 1987, some people reacted like democracy itself was being eroded in favor of rich people always getting whatever they want. And who knows, maybe that really was an early symptom on the way to January 6th 2021. This happened in the middle of the Reagan-Bush era, when a lot of little things like this happened, so the timing's spot on, at least.

Anyway, here's the list, starting here and heading downstream:

  • Unit C (1.21 acres, aka unit 4) is where we're at now. If I'm reading it right, a 2007 iFish forum post is saying this place is called "The Willows" out in the real world.
  • Unit 5 is not actually river access, but two tiny pieces of land on the waterfall side of the road, 0.11 and 0.01 acres respectively, with the larger one possibly including the falls we came here to look at. For anyone who missed the wrong day in grade school weights and measures class, one one-hundredth of an acre is equal to about 344 square feet, equivalent to an 18.5' square.
  • As for unit 2? Maps that have the sites numbered it show it as a long and extremely skinny bit of riverbank, roughly the whole stretch between City Limit Falls and North Roadside Falls, while maps that give the sites letters don't show this one at all, and PortlandMaps has it listed as private property, so I'm not sure what's going on here. I think the forum post from above is saying this area goes by "Duck Hole", unless maybe the highway speed limit signs have moved around since 2007. Google seems to think it's a popular place, or at least one that gets talked about a lot, so I dunno. I guess my point here is that if you want to know more about it (and what the legal situation is, etc.) your best bet is to go ask someone who actually knows what they're talking about, because I sure don't.
  • Unit B (0.43 acres, aka unit 3) is further downstream, right around the (relatively) busy intersection of the Columbia River Highway & Woodard Road. Thing is, there's not really anywhere to park around this one, and there are several "No Parking" signs are posted on both streets just in case anyone even thinks about trying it. So this one may be more of a locals-only thing. Or maybe it isn't a thing at all; I am absolutely clueless about the fish situation here, and you're on your own for that.
  • And finally there's Unit A (0.1 acres, aka unit 1), which may have been public access at one point but is now home to a boat launch for the Multnomah County Sheriff's River Patrol, accessed from a shared driveway to the south that's clearly posted No Trespassing. Given what the river patrol does, and the kind of river the Sandy is, the place is probably haunted too. I mean, if you believe in that sort of thing, and I'm not saying I do.

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