www.registerguard.com  | The Register-Guard, Eugene, Oregon




April 3, 2003


Urban hikes: The metro area offers many scenic, invigorating walks

By Mike Stahlberg
The Register-Guard

With gasoline selling for more than $2 a gallon, a trip to the mountains for a simple hike in the woods is not the inexpensive pleasure it once was.

But some avid Eugene-area hikers are discovering it isn't necessary to drive an hour or two to find interesting places to take long, invigorating walks with interesting things to see.

Indeed, you can even ride Lane Transit District buses to several area hikes for less than the cost of a trailhead parking pass needed at some national forest footpaths.

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Jan Jacobsen (center) leads a group of Obsidians on a hike along the Fern Ridge Bike Path in West Eugene. The path meanders through wetlands.

Photo: Chris Pietsch / The Register-Guard

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One proponent of "urban hikes" is Jan Jacobsen, an active member of The Obsidians outdoor club.

Three times since December, Jacobsen has led groups of a dozen or so hikers on an outing through the west Eugene wetlands on the newly opened section of the Fern Ridge Bike Path.

"It was a great trip," Jacobsen said after her first outing. "Many of the group had never been on a city bus or on the Fern Ridge Path. The new path is impressive, and offers views of wetlands and lots of birds."

Jacobsen uses the bus as a shuttle between the hike's ending point near City View and West 11th (where hikers leave their cars) and the starting point of the walk, just west of the bus stop at Danebo and Roosevelt streets.

She estimates the walk through the wetlands and back to City View is about 6.5 miles. For a longer hike, a few members of her group continued walking east on the bike path to the Lane County Fairgrounds.

Jacobsen's first hike in December lasted about three hours. A second outing in March took about an hour longer. Local birding expert Rick Ahrens agreed to talk to the hikers about some of the birds they saw (which included several Western Meadowlark and one Peregrine falcon) and about the wetlands.

The group also stopped at "the Red House," a Bureau of Land Management education center located on Danebo, a block or so north of the bike path. There the hikers picked up copies of the "West Eugene Wetlands Guide" and learned more about the wetlands restoration work.

"The extra hour spent identifying birds and discussing wetlands made for a more enjoyable trip," Jacobsen said.

Meanwhile, members of the party talked up some of their other favorite urban hikes.

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Headstones dominate the small cemetery atop Gillespie Butte near Delta Highway. Virginia Prouty has led hikers on urban walks to the cemetery, unseen by most Eugene residents, for several years.

Photo: Mike Stahlberg / The Register-Guard

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"There are a lot of trails that people don't know about" in the Bertlesen Nature Park near Stewart Pond, Ahrens said. The pond is east of Bertlesen Road and north of Stewart Road.

"There's also kind of an unofficial trail that people can follow around the Willow Creek Natural Area," he said, "Of course, the bicycle path along the river is wonderful, too, for the whole wildlife experience, for all the birds you can see. Beaver come out in the evening and a lot of other things.

"And Alton Baker Park has several miles of trails right in town, with good birding and wildflowers, and diverse habitat."

Other popular urban hikes include the Ridgeline Trail, Spencer Butte and Mount Pisgah.

"Pisgah's so much nicer now that they've got all the different trails rather than just the main road up to the top," Ahrens said. "Now there's lots of different options where you can get away from people."

Pisgah, however, is far enough from the nearest bus stop that some people might question whether it counts as urban.

On the other hand, one hiker in Jacobsen's group said she knows people who ride the LTD bus 40-some miles to hike the McKenzie River Scenic Trail. They get off the bus at the McKenzie River Ranger Station in the morning, cross the highway to the trail, hike 10 miles and return in time to meet the afternoon bus back to the city.

But there's no need to go that far. The Eugene area itself "has so many possibilities (for hikes) besides Spencer Butte and Mount Pisgah," Jacobsen said."

For example, she raves about a recent in-city hike she took for the first time, led by Virginia Prouty, also an Obsidian.

"She led us up to Gillespie Butte and to the historical cemetery there," Jacobsen said. "The cemetery was a real surprise for me. We also went by the Delta Ponds and the river."

Indeed, many people in Eugene would be surprised to visit the little hilltop patch of green to which Prouty has been leading hikers for several years.

"I've lived here 18 years and I walk everyplace," Prouty said. "I decided I might as well include other people."

The most recent version of Prouty's hike to Gillespie Butte started at the north end of the bike path on the east side of the Willamette River, near Green Acres Drive. From there, she led the group to Valley River Center, then east on Valley River Drive on the bridge over Delta Highway. She then turned north on Willagillespie Road, east on Clinton, and northeast on Debrick to Crenshaw.

Crenshaw angles up the west side of the butte, dead-ending at a city-owned natural area on the top of the hill that affords good views of the city to the south and east and of the Coburg Hills to the northeast.

"If it's a nice day, the views are spectacular," Prouty said.

Wildflowers dot the five-acre oak-savannah natural area, over which several ancient oak trees stand sentry.

Just north of the natural area is a small private cemetery that dates back to Eugene's early days.

"It's just a great little place to wander around," Prouty said. "There are quite a number of old timers there, like the Van Duyns and the Gillespies."

When she's ready to leave the hilltop, Prouty takes her group down the hill to Debrick, then crosses Cal Young and heads north and east via Fir Acres, Happy Lane and Goodpasture Road to the Delta Village/Valley River area.

"We meander through there, past the water spouts and get back on the trail."

Prouty says the walk takes about 3 1/2 hours, "so I would say it's about eight miles."

All of it, save for the time spent atop Gillespie Butte, was on pavement. But hiking on paved pathways has its advantages in Oregon in the spring - no mud from rain-soaked trails to scape off your boots.

There are other advantages to urban hikes, Prouty says.

"You don't have to drive forever, and you don't have to worry about the price of gasoline."


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