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Luckiamute showcases nature's beauty

State natural area provides scenic spots to take in beauty

Luckiamute State Natural Area is a haven for bird watchers to track down hard-to-find species.

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Luckiamute State Natural Area is a haven for bird watchers to track down hard-to-find species.

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Bird watchers can go on walks through Luckiamute.

From what is a morass of mud at the Luckiamute State Natural Area will grow a mature forest. A group of 25 to 30 volunteers gathered on Earth Day 2017 to plant shrubs and tree cuttings on the LSNA’s boundary with a farm field. Organized by the Luckiamute Watershed Council, the event is part of an ongoing restoration effort in the 925-acre expanse of public land, managed by Oregon State Parks and Recreation, that began in 2011.

Most people visiting the area don’t venture into this part of the LSNA, said Kristen Larson, the watershed council coordinator.

Visitors typically go a little further down Buena Vista road to the trailhead, but that doesn’t mean the mission of nurturing native plants — and being a good neighbor to the farmer — is any less critical.

The work done on Earth Day has the double benefit of giving the native willows and dogwoods a head start and eventually make it more difficult for weeds to take root.

“The point is that it all grows up and fills and makes a closed canopy,” Larson said. “Then the weeds have a harder time. You can see them on the edge, but under the willows there aren’t as many.”

Small willows from a previous planting bow to the wind and rain of the soggy morning, but otherwise look healthy and happy.

Larson said she sees evidence of the restoration working throughout the area.

“This is our last formal planting, apart from volunteers, so right now it’s a few more years of stewardship and more volunteer activities to help weed control,” she said.

In the mature forests in the area, the council’s work is allowing nature to take over.

“There’s just little random patches of blackberries that we’ve been helping (Oregon State) Parks to control and we need to go in and fill with plants. Sometimes the forest will fill it in itself,” Larson said. “Now we are transitioning more into taking care of the work that’s been done and help state parks to take care of the work that has been done.”

Take a stroll through those flood plain forests and you will find more than just beautiful plants and magnificent trees.

The 315 square miles of wilderness and riparian dreamscape in the making is a paradise for wildlife, from birds to butterflies.

The watershed council and a local volunteer organize and lead birding hikes in the area on a regular basis in the spring and fall.

Collecting birds is a hobby of birdwatchers, or birders, that involves keeping track of what birds they identify either by sight or by the bird’s song. That list can be a lifetime list — how many birds you’ve identified in your life — or an annual list — how many birds you identify in one year’s time.

Look carefully enough and you will find screech owls, hummingbirds, sapsuckers, woodpeckers, sparrows, and hawks making the LSNA their home.

You will want to take your time on the trails.

Along the walk, hikers are greeted by native shrubs, flowers and trees. Most have been planted by volunteers, working to repair the habitat to its natural state. Others have a history of growing in the area long before the settlers came.

From the north trailhead parking lot to where the roughly two-mile loop begins, an artificial forest of cottonwood and ash trees lines the right, casting shade along the trail. Most of the trail is protected by canopy, making it a pleasant walk even on a warm, sunny day.

Additional trails connect with the loop, one taking hikers to the confluence of three rivers, where the Santiam and Luckiamute enter the Willamette.

Other trails have canoe access or give hikers a chance to explore the forest deeper in this recovering wilderness playground.