A Columbia River Hike Through History
This Great River of the West, sought by Lewis & Clark, has been a transportation trail for thousands of years. Heavy volcanic basalt flows caused a depression in the earth's crust. A thousand years worth of enormous floods from breaking Ice Dams in Montana pushed huge volumes of water and boulders traveling 60 mile an hour, 900-1000 feet deep across the depression. Boulder, sand & gravel deposits left by Ice Age Missoula Floods punctuate our landscape.
Native Americans lived, fished and traveled along the river's edge for more than 10,000 years. Ancient Petroglyphs rescued from submersion by backwaters of the John Day Dam can be found in Irrigon and Boardman. The Treaty of 1855 set aside a reservation of land for the Umatilla, Cayuse and Walla Walla peoples and established tribal rights to hunt, fish, collect plant foods on this land in the traditional ways.
Early European Americans traveling the Columbia River included: Captains Lewis & Clark & Corps of Discovery; The Astor Party including John Day; members of the American Fur Trading Company and Peter Skene Ogden of Hudson's Bay Company. The earliest Oregon Trail emigrants came this way after visiting Whitman mission for fresh livestock & supplies. In the 20th century, harnessing the Columbia with dams for flood control, irrigation and electrical power generation changed the appearance of the river and lifted the Columbia River people from dependence on natural resources. Irrigation and power generation expanded agricultural possibilities to feed America and the world.
A Great Recreational Opportunity Awaits on Morrow County Columbia River Heritage Trail!
Begin your Heritage Trail Adventure at Irrigon Marina Park, (Highway 730 to 10th street, north to the river's edge). Park in the Marina Parking Lot and walk to interpretive panels directing your eyes to river navigation buoys. Buoys mark "Sand Island" where Lewis & Clark, Sacagawea, her French Trapper husband, Charbonneau, infant "Pomp" and the Corps of Discovery camped with native people harvesting freshwater clams, the evening of October 19, 1805. Backwaters of the John Day Dam, "Lake Umatilla" now cover the 1 ½ mile long island.
(" the sight of This Indian woman, wife to one of our interpetrs, confirmed those people of our friendly intentions a women with a party of men is a token of peace" Meriwether Lewis, October 19, 1805
Hiking west, pass the Irrigon Pioneer Cemetery. Remember Irrigon, established as "Grande Ronde Landing" in 1861, was a transportation point for Oregon, Idaho and Montana goldfields. Stern wheelers provided freight and passenger service to Lewiston, Idaho and Portland, Oregon. A ferry crossed the Columbia to Coolidge, WA.
Make time to visit the Irrigon and Umatilla Fish Hatcheries. The twin hatcheries were established to replace spawning grounds for native fish destroyed by construction of the dams. Continuing west, watch for the Irrigon Bomb Docks. Steep earth sides mark the shipping point for bombs, shells and small arms transported between the Columbia River and Umatilla Army Depot from 1941-1961.
At the old Paterson (WA) Ferry Landing, Heritage Trail turns south.. Year Round parking and trail access points to the McCormack Unit of Umatilla National Wildlife Refuge are located on Paterson Road. Follow the Refuge Auto Tour Road through the wetlands. Umatilla Refuge is "Mecca" for birdwatchers and wildlife enthusiasts: Long-billed curlews arrive in mid March, stage spectacular courtship flights, raise chicks and return to Mexico and Guatemala by August 1.
Early morning and late afternoon are prime wildlife viewing hours for resident wildlife raising their young at the refuge. Mallards, wood duck, cinnamon teal, avocets, blackfaced stilts, short-eared and burrowing owls, Canadian geese, muledeer and beaver are year round residents.
Continue west through Umatilla National Wildlife Refuge toward Boardman. Connect with Old Columbia River Highway, now know as "Columbia Avenue." Pass a grove of tough Black Locust & Sumac Trees surrounding the pump house of an abandoned water well. The trees and well, part of Oregon's first Highway Rest Stop, were the handiwork of Sam Boardman, later Oregon's first Superintendent of State Parks.
Moving west on Columbia Avenue, pass through agribusiness farms and enormous alfalfa hay stacks. Sand & gravel deposits left by Ice Age Floods are being mined along the rivers edge. Carefully entering the busy Port of Morrow Agribusiness Complex, watch for giant stainless steel tanks storing milk for Columbia River Processing, a satellite facility of Tillamook County Creamery Cooperative (sorry, no tours or tasting room at the present). In 1922, a thriving Swiss Cheese Factory in Old Boardman utilized local alfalfa hay on a much smaller scale.
Turn North on Ullman Blvd to pass through the heart of the Port of Morrow Agribusiness Complex. Depending on the season, you may detect the fragrance of peppermint oil, fresh pack onions, French Fried potatoes and "tots." Large food processing complexes use steam from natural gas-co-generation plants in their production. Most of the steam is piped underground to the plants, but some is vented from the twin towers. Watch for container barges being loaded for shipment to Portland and Asia; and wood chip storage yards.
Time for a break? Head west on Marine Avenue to the old Boardman Depot. Cap. Al James, historic barge tug complete with picnic table faces the depot. A spur trail winds through the Port of Morrow, Riverfront Center, Riverfront Lodge and back to Marine Drive.
Benches along the trail at Sailboard Beach are a prime viewing spot for white pelicans enjoying the sheltered waters of a small cove on the Columbia.
Time for decisions! Continue west on a spur trail to Boardman Marina Park? Experience the same spectacular sunsets the Corps of Discovery saw from their five dugouts? Look for Native Americans seasonally fishing salmon from the Marina Park "In Lieu" site which replaced traditional fishing areas flooded by dams? Or, follow the trail South on Boardman's Main Street?
Columbia River Heritage Trail works two ways - Many trail users choose to start in Boardman and follow the sun East to Irrigon.
What is the Columbia River Heritage Trail? A twelve mile non-motorized recreational trail, roughly paralleling the Columbia River, connecting Irrigon and Boardman Communities. The trail is ideal for activities such as hiking, bicycling, jogging and nature study.
Who owns Columbia River Heritage Trail? Government agencies and private corporations own the land. Morrow County Heritage Trail is developing as money and opportunities arise. Today the trail is open between Irrigon and Boardman. Future plans expansion to a 25 mile trail from Umatilla to Gilliam County.
Where do funds come for the Columbia River Heritage Trail? Volunteers: contribute time and energy for the annual Oregon SOLV "Down by the Riverside" trail cleanup; organize the annual Lewis & Clark Bicentennial Heritage Day; & conduct fundraising activities for trail amenities and matching grant funds.
Contact the Morrow County Planning Department, 541-922-4624 for ways to support
the Columbia River Heritage Trail
Scenes from past Morrow County Lewis & Clark Bicentennial Heritage Days