Protecting the beautiful rivers, wild lands and legendary botanical diversity of Oregon's Kalmiopsis Country

An economic model for Oregon’s beautiful Illinois River Valley?

Updated March 31, 2013—Trail towns in the East—that provide unique recreation opportunities and take care of the environment—are flourishing, even in an otherwise economically depressed region. Now, two communities in the State of Jefferson are starting their own rails-to-trails project. Is there a similar model that will work for Oregon’s beautiful Illinois River Valley

Listen to the March 25th Jefferson Exchange and visit The Great Shasta Rail Trail website to learn about this proposed 80 mile trail between McCloud and Burney, California. Read this report on the Economic Importance of National Monuments to Local Communities and read the new National Park Service report about the jobs and dollars contributed to local economies by the Oregon Caves National Monument and Crater Lake National Park.

In the East, despite hard economic times, business and communities along the Great Allegheny Passage (GAP), a rail trail running between Pittsburg and Washington D.C., are doing well and adding small businesses. See the USDA’s press release about the trail and the agency’s Business and Cooperative Programs. Constructed mostly on an old railroad bed, the GAP is relatively level and motor vehicle free. When completed it will be 150 miles in length and will eventually connect with an even longer trail further east.

Unlike the hot summer season, one can find peace and solitude  (and great beauty) on the Scenic Illinois River in the fall, winter and spring.
Oregon’s National Wild and Scenic Illinois River. America’s great outdoors doesn’t get any better than this but we have to take care of it.

Would something like this work to connect Grants Pass, the Illinois River Valley and/or the coast? Would people, for example, be willing to leave their cars and bike and hike to camp along the beautiful Illinois River (if it was safe for families and individuals)? There’s studies showing that communities which provide unique recreation opportunities like the GAP or are near protected federal lands are the ones that flourish over time. But there’s some work that needs to be done first.

Which do you think would be in the long term interest of our communities—both for our own use and enjoyment and to bring in tourism dollars? This (Day’s Gulch Botanical Area after rogue 4-wheel drive users forever impacted this lovely wet meadow as a race/mudding track)?

Day’s Gulch Botanical Area after 4-wheel drive group used it as a race track during a mudding party.

Or this (Eight Dollar Mountain Area of Critical Environmental Concern, Darlingtonia fen interpretive board walk)?

Eight Dollar Mountain Area of Critical Environmental Concern interpretive boardwalk.

Nothing good will happen without good planning and the acquisition of funding needed to create a system of accessible trails connecting communities and appropriate natural heritage and historic sites.  However, local citizens also need to address the escalating vandalism and destruction of public lands in the Illinois Valley to demonstrate the area is worth investing in.

Despite its beauty and high recreation value, the Illinois Scenic River Area Illinois has been subject to neglect and lawlessness. The Forest Service is working to change that.
Despite its beauty and high recreation value, the Illinois Scenic River Area Illinois was for many years subject to neglect and lawlessness. It’s slipping that way again. Pictured: Historic Store Gulch Guard Station.

Here’s an example of one visitor’s recent experience:

We’ve been camping on the [Wild and Scenic Illinois]  River for over two decades and my daughter and her girlfriends, who live in Portland now, are ‘done’ with the Illinois after last year’s experience. Dealing will all the crime, trash, and undesireable people over the years has just become too much.

And the unfortunate experience is not uncommon or limited to visitors. Cave Junction’s struggle to keep the Illinois River Forks State Park open is another example of the problems responsible citizens face. Read about this effort at the Illinois Valley Daily View.

The falls on the Illinois River. The Takelma called them Ti-wi-kh.
The falls on the Illinois River. The Takelma called them Ti-wi-kh.

There’s so much potential in the Illinois Valley to build a clean green sustainable economy but we have to look for new models and learn to take care of the irreplaceable national treasure that’s our home ground.

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