Après le grand déluge, I took one for the Field Guide last weekend and my wife and I went out to begin the revisions for this hike, last updated (except for my recent disclaimer) in 2007! That would be before the construction of the Maya Lin Confluence Project bird blind and the dismantling of the dike that blocked the east (main) channel.
The Forest Service acquired these 1,400 acres of land in 1991. Before that, it had been part of a cattle ranch, but the land was owned by Reynolds Aluminum. The dike that blocked the main channel of the Sandy was constructed in 1931 to improve fish passage – it was considered that waters at the confluence with the Columbia were too shallow at critical times. Thus, the area, for 60 years anyway, ceased to be a delta, and the Sandy ran a straighter course to the Columbia via the west channel, previously known as the Little Sandy. For 20 years thereafter, hikers, bikers, dogs owners, horse riders, and hunters could visit Sundial Island north of the east channel and walk the beach at the mouth of Little Sandy. After the USFS acquisition, when this became the western portal to the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area, cattle grazing was halted. A rampant, uncontained invasion of blackberry and reed canary grass was the result, and efforts have been ongoing to restore a semblance of native habitat. In fact, for the most part, other than the native tree cover of cottonwood, ash, willow, and red osier dogwood, the ground forbs and shrubbery are an intense display of exotic species.
We began at the large parking area, near what is known as the Thousand Acre Dog Park, and walked through the off-leash area via the old cattle corral. A series of meadows is bordered on the east side by a pole and rail fence that keeps people out of wildlife habitat. We took the Meadows Trail and then descended from it to the river opposite Gary Island. Washougal and Camas were visible to the north, but with river levels rising, we soon had to duck back into the willow thickets before we reached the mouth of the recently liberated (2013) eastern channel.
From there, we headed up the bank to the Maya Lin Bird Blind, constructed as part of the Lewis and Clark Bicentennial Confluence Project and inaugurated in August, 2008. The slats of black locust wood each carry the name of one of the 134 species of plants and animals that the two explorers recorded on their journey. From the bottom to the top, you can read the Lewis/Clark name for the species, modern common name, Linnaean name, and conservation status.
We took the trail along the east channel and then veered away from it, passing between cottonwood groves to reach 1000 Acre Road, now a wide hiking path. Then we made our way through leafy woods to the Sandy just below where it splits into the two delta channels. From here, I had wanted to walk back along the river towards the I-84 bridge, but that proved impossible with water levels now a few feet higher than the day before! We ended up tangled in a veritable labyrinth of “maintained” user trails that led to one messy transient encampment after another (My wife was, shall we say, less than enthused about this part of the itinerary). After plunging through thickets of horsetails, spiraea, and blackberry, and kicking up all kinds of plastic garbage, we made it to the freeway on-ramp and got back to parking.
The Field Guide revision forthcoming . . .
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Yes, I've never done this hike either. It's always insanely crowded on weekends there, even w/ the new TH parking. Combined w/ the HEAVY transient footprint, it's always skipped. I hope to make it one day. That cottonwood leaf is INSANE!
"The top...is not the top" - Mile...Mile & a Half