Walking The Delta

The Boundary Trail

Of all the paths you take in life, make sure a few of them are dirt. John Muir (1838-1914)

As traffic zipped by along I-84, we began our mid-morning walk along the Boundary Trail on the historic Sandy River Delta at the west-end of the Columbia River Gorge; our destination, the Maya Lin Bird Blind 1 1/2 miles north. 

It was early September with a sky that would have been bright as a bluebird if not for the dingy haze brought by distant wildfires.  Not quite ten, and already it was seventy degrees; maybe the haze was a good thing shielding us from the blistering sun.  The Boundary Trail led through lush riparian forest of ash, alder, cottonwood, maple, red osier dogwood, and Pacific and Columbia willow—crucial habitat for one of Oregon’s rarest birds, the western yellow billed cuckoo (Coccyzus americanus occidentalis). The cuckoo is in serious decline and listed as a threatened species.  

Western Yellow-Billed Cuckoo Study Area

Moving on, we crossed Johnston Creek (presently dry) to a fork in the trail.  To the right was the Meadow Trail that, according to the map, was narrow and overgrown with obstacles.  To the left, was the Sandy River Delta Trail that led to more trails.  We stuck to the Boundary Trail that cut through an old cattle pasture that became a haven for noxious plants such as canary grass, thistle, and blackberry.  Fortunately, such noxious plants have been greatly reduced thanks to restoration effort.  

The Meadow
Cooley’s Hedge-Nettle (Stachys cooleyae)
Rose Hips
Snowberry (Symphoricarpos albus)
Bittersweet (Solanum dulcamara)

The Boundary Trail connected to a graveled Main Trail that opened to full sun bordering The Meadow.  The Main Trail reconnected us to the Boundary Trail, and another gorgeous segment of riparian woods.  The temperature climbed with the humidity; suddenly the woods felt very tropical (ideal cuckoo habitat).  Along the trail, we found Nootka rose (Rosa nutkana) and red rose hips of woods’ rose (Rosa woodsii) both natives.  Not expecting many wildflowers, it was a pleasant surprise crossing paths with Cooley’s hedge nettle (Stachys cooleyae)—a native, stingless, perennial herb with delicate pink trumpets.  There was also snowberry (Symphoricarpos albus)—a native, perennial shrub whose ghostly berries support wildlife.  Nearby, was a tangle of bittersweet (aka woody nightshade) Solanum dulcamaraa noxious, toxic vine that chokes the natives.

Black Locust Boardwalk
Garter Snake on Boardwalk
Boardwalk to the Maya Lin Bird Blind
Inside the Maya Lin Bird Blind

At the end of the Boundary Trail a boardwalk constructed of black locust (Robinia pseudoacacia)—a non-native species that arrived via early settlers, led to the bird blind.  The smell of cottonwoods was invigorating.  Leaves were starting to fall, decorating the boardwalk.  Lingering as I always do, I heard rustling in the dried leaves as a frightened garter snake was making its escape.  She was likely sunning on the locust boards before my footsteps frightened her.  Quickly, I snapped a photo seconds before she slipped through the boards.

Yellow Jacket Nest
Another Yellow Jacket Nest

The Maya Lin Bird Blind is impressive.  It is perched fifteen feet over a ledge of The Delta, and as the trees have grown up around it, it generates a tree house effect.  The blind has ten-foot metal slats engraved with 134 species of plants and animals (including the wolf, now extinct in the area) recorded by Lewis and Clark in 1805.  I wasn’t inside the blind more than a minute when I saw hundreds of yellow jackets!  I counted at least four nests; I’m sure there were more.  Each nest was carefully guarded.  Finding it unsafe to linger, I backed away and exited slowly, hoping my camera wouldn’t trigger an attack.  Thankfully, it did not. 

Confluence Trail
Columbia Side Channel along the Confluence Trail
Tansy Ragwort (Senecia jacobaea) a toxic non-native along the Confluence Trail of the Sandy River Delta
Yellow Woolly Bear (Spilosoma virginica)

We returned via the Confluence Trail, a 1 1/4 mile trek through riparian woods with a glimpse of the Columbia Side Channel before crossing the sun-baked meadow in a furnace of eighty-five degrees.  We were parched when we reached the woods near the parking lot.  Thankful for the shade of the cottonwoods we sat in their shadow guzzling cool water from our canteens. 

Sandy River Delta Timeline:  (Sandy River Delta Trail Map) (Sandy River Delta Loop Hike)

1800—Mount Hood erupts sending mudflows down the Sandy River, 56 miles to the Columbia forming The Delta.   

1805—Lewis and Clark explored The Delta.

1932—An Earth Dam was built on the Sandy River’s East Channel to divert smelt returns to the West Channel.  The result was devastating that killed the smelt.

1948—The historic Vanport Flood killed 39 people, and temporarily drowned The Delta Woodlands.

Late 1940s—The Delta was purchased by the Martin’s who started a farm raising crops and cattle. 

Early 1950s—Reynolds Metal Company operated an aluminum plant upriver along the Columbia that released toxic levels of fluoride that sickened the Martins, and killed their crops, and cattle.  The land was so polluted, Paul and Verla Martin decided to move.   

1991—US Forest Service purchased The Delta’s 1,400 acres, and restoration efforts began. 

2008—The Maya Lin Bird Blind dedication ceremony.

2013—The Delta Dam was removed to allow fish passage.

2018—Trails have been established, and efforts continue along The Delta to restore the lands natural beauty.     

Copyright, 2018.  All rights reserved.