Thursday, September 16, 2021

Willamette Park and Natural Area in Corvallis, OR (Blog Hike #867)

Trails: (unnamed)
Hike Location: Willamette Park
Geographic Location: south side of Corvallis, OR (44.55047, -123.25160)
Length: 2.1 miles
Difficulty: 1/10 (Easy)
Last Hiked: July 2021
Overview: A nearly flat loop partly along the banks of the Willamette River.
Park Information:
Hike Route Map:
Summary Video: (coming January 7, 2022)
Photo Highlight:

Directions to the trailhead: From downtown Corvallis, take SR 99W south 1.1 miles to Crystal Lake Drive; there is a traffic light at this intersection.  Turn left on Crystal Lake Dr.  Take Crystal Lake Dr. east 0.5 miles to Fischer Lane and turn left on Fischer Ln.  Fischer Ln. deadends at Willamette Park's boat ramp; park in the parking lot beside the boat ramp.

The hike: Consisting of 287 acres on the west bank of the Willamette River, Willamette Park is the largest park and crown jewel in the City of Corvallis' park system.  The park's most popular amenities are the Crystal Lake Sports Fields, which offer a seemingly uncountable number of soccer and baseball fields, and the Willamette Boat Landing.  A disc golf course lies at the park's south end, and the fact that most of the park has been designated an off-leash dog area makes the park puppy friendly.
            Fortunately for hikers, most of the park's riverfront acreage remains in its natural state.  The park has trailheads at both the north and south ends of the heavily wooded riparian area, and several routes are possible through the park's trail system.  This hike starts from the park's north trailhead, goes south through the natural area, and returns by going past the athletic fields, thus sampling all the park has to offer.
North Trailhead
        The parking area at the north trailhead is also the parking area for the Willamette Boat Landing.  Many trails depart from the information kiosk and vehicle gate here, but I started with the dirt trail that angles softly left and heads into the woods.  Note that none of the trails at this park are marked, so you may want to take a picture of the trail map at the information kiosk for reference later in this hike.  Quickly you cross a wide dirt trail and reach the Willamette River's gravelly bank.  Despite your close proximity to Corvallis, the view is surprisingly free of man-made objects, and the river's clear waters beckon you or your dog to wade in.
Willamette River
        To continue the hike, retrace your steps to the wide dirt trail and turn left to begin heading south with the river through the trees on the left.  The trail heads through dense forest that features a large number of cottonwood trees.  Where side trails exit right or left, continue straight on the widest trail.
Southbound near the river
        At 0.75 miles, the wide dirt trail ends at another gravel river beach.  I shared this beach with a couple of anglers, but again signs of man-made intrusions are minimal.  After enjoying the second beach, retrace your steps to the previous side trail intersection and turn left to continue heading south on a narrower trail.
Second gravel river beach
        The trail climbs slightly to leave the river's floodplain, and at 1.2 miles you reach the park's south trailhead near the park's disc golf course.  As with the north trailhead, many trails converge here, and thus you have many options for getting back to your car.  You could choose the narrower dirt trail going right that stays in the riverside natural area, or you could choose a dirt trail going left that goes close to the 
park's west boundary and hence the residential area beyond.  For the shortest route back to the north trailhead, I chose the asphalt trail that goes through the middle of the park.
Asphalt return trail
        The asphalt trail starts in the woods, but soon it enters the park's sunny athletic fields.  Some nice views of the Coast Mountains' foothills open up across the soccer fields to the west.  Just past 2 miles, you return to the north trailhead by the park's boat ramp to complete the hike.

Monday, September 13, 2021

William L. Finley National Wildlife Refuge: Cabell Marsh and Homer Carpenter Boardwalk Trails (Blog Hike #866)

Trails: Cabell Marsh and Homer Carpenter Boardwalk Trails
Hike Location: William L. Finley National Wildlife Refuge
Geographic Location: south of Corvallis, OR (44.41908, -123.32559)
Length: 2.3 miles
Difficulty: 1/10 (Easy)
Last Hiked: July 2021
Overview: A semiloop with good bird-viewing opportunities in Cabell Marsh.
Refuge Information:
Hike Route Map:
Summary Video: (coming December 10)
Photo Highlight:

Directions to the trailhead: From Corvallis, take SR 99W south 9 miles to Finley Road and turn right on Finley Rd.  Drive gravel Finley Rd. west 1.3 miles to Finley Refuge Road and turn left on Finley Refuge Rd.  Drive Finley Refuge Rd. another 1.5 miles to the refuge's administrative headquarters on the left.  Park in the parking lot beside the headquarters.

The hike: Sprawling for 5325 acres of wetlands and old farm fields, William L. Finley National Wildlife Refuge is a major birding destination in the Willamette River valley south of Corvallis.  The refuge is an important wintering site for the dusky Canada goose, large numbers of which fly down here every winter from the Copper River delta in Alaska.  I only saw a few Canada geese when I came here on a warm summer morning in mid-July, but I saw a large number of other birds.  Thus, I can easily see this refuge's appeal to birders.
            Unlike most national wildlife refuges that offer only short wildlife viewing trails, William L. Finley also offers over 12 miles of trails for hikers.  While most of the land is fairly flat, some of the trails are quite hilly, including the 2.5 mile Mill Hill Loop in the western part of the refuge.  Having done a long hike at Silver Falls State Park the previous day, I was looking for something flat and easy, and the semiloop described here fits that description.  Even better, this hike takes you past the refuge's best wetlands, thus allowing you to maximize your bird viewing while minimizing your difficulty.
Trailhead at headquarters parking lot
        From the back of the headquarters parking lot, pick up the signed gravel Cabell Marsh Trail as it heads across the grassy headquarters' back yard and into the woods.  Quickly the trail passes through a wooden shelter with interpretive signs and benches.  Signs warn you that this trail is closed between November 1 and March 31 to protect wintering wildlife.
Wooden interpretive shelter
        At 0.1 miles, the entrance trail ends at a T-intersection with an old gravel road.  This intersection forms the loop portion of this hike.  Turn right to take a direct route to the best wetlands.  The trail curves left to head east with the open waters of Cabell Marsh on the right.  Although I came here in the middle of summer, I saw a large number of birds and insects here including a 
bald eagle, Canada geese, herons, goldfinches, sparrows, dragonflies, and bumblebees.
Birds in Cabell Marsh
        Too soon the open waters are left behind.  The two-track gravel road now curves right and becomes bordered on either side by a shallower marsh filled with cattails.  Numerous prairie wildflowers bloom in this sunny wet meadow, and nice views of Mill Hill can be had across Cabell Marsh to the west.  Some blackberries a little too early for picking grew beside the trail when I hiked here.
View west across Cabell Marsh
        A rabbit greeted me just before I reached a trail intersection at 0.9 miles, where 
the Cabell Marsh Trail ends.  Directional signs point left to Pigeon Butte and right to Mill Hill, and those are good destinations if you wish to extend your hike.  I wanted to keep my hike short and easy, so I turned around and headed back on the Cabell Marsh Trail.  To add a little variety to your return route, when you get back to the open water portion of Cabell Marsh, look to the right for a boardwalk that is the start of the Homer Carpenter Boardwalk Trail.  Turn right to begin hiking the wooden boardwalk.
Boardwalk through swamp forest
        The boardwalk soon reaches a wooden bird blind that offers a view of Cabell Marsh that is inferior to the ones you had from the other trail.  Continue to follow the boardwalk as it heads north to carry you over a swamp forest that features trees draped in Spanish moss, a sight more common in Louisiana than in Oregon.  The shady forest provides welcome relief from the sun but not from the humidity on hot summer days.
Hiking on the old gravel road
        At 1.9 miles, you reach the parking lot that serves the Homer Carpenter Boardwalk.  To get back to the parking lot that contains your car, walk out toward the main refuge road, but just before you reach the road look to the left to find a gated gravel road that is the unsigned start of the Cabell Marsh Trail.  Turn left to begin the gravel road, and after a few hundred feet you reach an intersection with the entrance trail to close the loop.  Turn right to walk back up the entrance trail to return to the headquarters parking lot and complete the hike.