Popular Shellburg Falls area still undergoing safety and environmental protection improvements before it can reopen (Photo)
SALEM, Ore.—The Oregon Department of Forestry (ODF) has been working to reopen some of the recreation trails and facilities in the Santiam State Forest after many were severely impacted by the 2020 Beachie Creek Fire that burned nearly 192,000 acres.
On July 1, 2022, ODF reopened Monument Peak Trail System, Santiam Horse Camp, Rock Creek Campground, and the Natural Arch and Rocky Top Trails.
However, others remain closed including the most visited site in the Santiam State Forest—Shellburg Falls. It was one of the areas most impacted by the fires.
“In the falls area the fire destroyed bridges, trail erosion protections, stairs, and other wooden infrastructure critical for the safety of trail users and protection of the environment,” said Mike Wilson, ODF State Forests Division Chief.
In 2021 and 2022 ODF did post-fire timber harvesting and roadside hazard mitigation for safety and to improve the survival and health of the remaining trees in the area. ODF also replanted trees for the future of the forested area.
ODF originally anticipated that the Shellburg Falls area would reopen by now. However, the process has taken longer, largely due to the limited resources available to conduct operations across the entire affected landscape, including on neighboring landowners who were conducting similar operations trying to recover after the fire.
Since the fire, the ODF has been planning and budgeting for reconstruction and improvements to the Shellburg Falls area. Projects include replacement of two bridges, rerouting portions of the trail to eliminate the use of wooden stairs and improvements to the trails themselves to reduce environmental impacts.
The small overnight camping area with seven sites will not be reconstructed mainly due to fire safety concerns for the remaining trees, but there will be a day use picnic area with vault toilets. The entire area will be for day use only with four separate parking areas.
The reconstruction budget is modest for such a large project, estimated to be around $100,000.
“We are able to realize lower costs due to labor and work crews from the South Fork Forest Camp and the generous efforts of local area volunteer groups,” said Wilson.
South Fork Forest Camp is run jointly by the Department of Corrections and ODF to provide adults in custody work skills and at the same time to improve public services like firefighting and forest trail construction.
The big question from the public is when will Shellburg Falls day use area reopen?
“Unfortunately, with fire season already here and special requirements to protect sensitive areas during reconstruction we are hopeful that the area will be open later this year,” said Wilson. “September would be the most optimistic date, but it very well could reopen later—even some time in 2024. It just depends on how fast the work gets done and if we run into unexpected issues.”
Also still closed are recreation facilities in the northern block of the Santiam mainly due to ongoing work to remove fire-killed trees that pose a threat to public safety. However, ODF is anticipating those areas will open later this fall if the work stays on schedule this summer.