Partnership Powers New Vantage Points - Columbia Land Trust
New trail segment in Hood River's Powerdale Natural Area

Columbia Land Trust has stewarded the 400-acre Powerdale Natural Area in Hood River since 2013. The Powerdale Corridor, as it is often called, traces about four miles of the Hood River and the canyon it runs through, starting just south of its confluence with the Columbia River.

The name of the site comes from its history as a hydroelectric project. The Powerdale powerhouse produced the most electricity in Oregon when it was built in 1923 and fostered the early success of the fruit industry that still thrives in this region. Eventually the hydroelectric plant was rendered obsolete, and the dam, powerhouse, and other infrastructure were decommissioned in 2010.

Dam removal restored open access to the Hood River for salmon, steelhead, and Pacific lamprey. In 2013, utility company PacifiCorp donated the 400-acre Powerdale property to Columbia Land Trust and Hood River County, conserving the land to permanently protect water quality, fish and wildlife habitat, allow public recreation, and ensure tribal fishing access. Ever since, the Land Trust has owned and managed 300 acres, and the county owns the remaining 100 acres.

In 2019, as a new housing development of more than 100 homes was being constructed on the bluffs above the river’s west bank, Columbia Land Trust acquired 40 additional acres of land, thanks to a donation from Sieverkropp Development. This property adjoins the existing Powerdale Natural Area and functions as an important natural buffer between the new homes and the riparian zone, protecting wildlife habitat and water quality. The donated land also created an exciting opportunity for the Land Trust to collaborate with the Hood River Valley Parks & Recreation District to construct a new .56-mile trail segment that extends the existing Indian Creek Trail network.

“This trail as a whole is so special,” said Parks District Director Mark Hickok. “The fact that it exists at all is a minor miracle, since it didn’t come about until the early 2000’s when Parks District board member Art Carroll started working to connect a trail system through the city of Hood River. It crosses so many pieces of private property and easements and public land, while only crossing three major roads. This latest extension has been a vision of ours for over a decade.”

Currently, the Indian Creek Trail runs from East Hazel Avenue (a few blocks uphill from downtown) to Barrett Park three miles away, passing Hood River High School and Columbia Gorge Community College. There is only one missing section in the middle, and the Parks District is working on purchasing the intervening property to fully connect the trail.

Construction of the new section was completed by Parks District staff and a dedicated group of volunteers, who worked on the trail every Tuesday for several months over the winter. One especially steep section at the trail’s southern terminus required the services of Twin Oaks Trails, to build the switchbacks and navigate an unstable hillside.

“The new trail brings people to an incredible viewpoint overlooking the Powerdale corridor,” said Natural Area Manager Kate Conley, who was hired by Columbia Land Trust in 2013 when the organization began managing the newly conserved Powerdale lands and has spent the last decade of her career caring for this landscape. “The urban residential neighborhood adjacent to the new trail was still agricultural land when I started working on the Powerdale project,” she said. “I’m thankful that we were able to conserve the forested river canyon and establish public access along the canyon rim.”

In addition to great scenery, the vantage point from the trail allows people to see where they are in relation to the Hood River and feel connected to their home watershed.

“Hood River is surrounded by an abundance of natural beauty and recreation opportunities, but this is one of the most accessible,” said Hickok. “There are several areas on the Indian Creek Trail where you feel like you are deep in the Gorge, miles from civilization, then you round a corner and smell someone’s barbecue, hear children jumping on a trampoline, and remember that you are right in town. It is also an important form of pedestrian transportation, with people using the trail to commute to work and school.”

Engaging people with nature is one of Columbia Land Trust’s primary objectives outlined by our 25-year Conservation Agenda, and this project was an incredible opportunity to work toward that goal, while simultaneously protecting the ecological integrity of the Hood River watershed, and collaborating with the Parks District.

“Working with the Columbia Land Trust has been a rewarding experience,” said Hickok. “It is great when your partner’s values and enthusiasm align with your own. Our agency and the Land Trust each bring unique skills to the table and we found a way to divide the work and resources in a fair way to leverage so much benefit for the community. The Hood River Valley Parks & Recreation District looks forward to partnering with the Land Trust for years to come.”

As a celebration of the new trail segment, the Land Trust and the Parks District co-hosted a ribbon-cutting and volunteer event on Earth Day this April. After a short presentation on the history of the trail and how it came to be, about 100 volunteers removed more than 500 tires from the trail canyon and helped remove invasive blackberry bushes from a hill next to the trail. We suspect the area was used as a dump site in the 1960’s and the eager volunteers quickly removed two full dumpsters worth of tires!

“It was so gratifying to see how many community members turned out on Earth Day to celebrate the culmination of the trail project and the land conservation work that underlies it,” said Conley. “We entered into this complex project with community at the forefront of our mind, and this was a powerful demonstration of how much the community cares. Also, the number of tires the group hauled up a hill in less than two hours was astounding!”

The Land Trust will continue to work on habitat enhancement projects along the trail corridor and we hope there will be future opportunities for volunteers and local residents to get involved.

“The vision is that Powerdale Natural Area and its trails will continue to provide our community with a feeling of connection to the Hood River, our forest ecosystems, and this spectacular place that we call home,” said Conley. “I hope that visiting and enjoying our local natural areas will inspire people to help protect them in perpetuity.”

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Thank you to PacifiCorp and the Sieverkropp family for the land donations that made this project possible, and thank you to Hood River Waste Management for donating the tire removal services.

Read more nature news in our Spring 2023 Fieldbook.