PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) – Nearly 1,000 acres in the Santiam State Forest that had been damaged in the 2020 wildfires were reopened this week after the catastrophic inferno prevented public use, according to the Oregon Department of Forestry.
Jason Cox, public affairs officer for the Oregon Department of Forestry, said crews have worked hard over the last year and a half to remove hazards from the land and roads to make them safe for people to visit again.
“We know that the public loves their forests, and is eager to get back out and enjoy them. And we’re just as eager to welcome folks back,” Cox said.
The land that reopened is 925 acres northeast of Gates, in what’s considered the Packsaddle block, in the Santiam Canyon. Cox said it’s mostly an undeveloped area, but it is popular with people who enjoy hunting, recreational shooting and mushroom gathering.
Even though the land is now open, some areas and roads may still have limited access due to snow.
Cox said some of the more popular recreation areas in the Santiam Canyon, like Shellburg Falls and the High Lakes Recreation Area, are still closed while crews continue to repair the damage done by the 2020 wildfires.
He said trees are blocking roads and trails, and signs and bridges need to be replaced. In some areas, the fire completely destroyed trails.
“In some cases, you actually see the trail itself burned down to the rock base underneath it. So even though it might not seem like something that could burn up, that’s called a duff layer… when that burns up, then you’ve essentially deconstructed that trail down to the rock base,” Cox said.
Currently, ODF expects the more popular recreation areas like Shellburg Falls and the High Lakes areas will reopen to the public at the end of October.
For now, anyone venturing to the acreage that recently opened should expect it to look a bit different than it did before the fires. Some areas will look untouched, but others were completely torched.
“You’ll see some areas that were decimated to the point where there’s little or no tree cover left and where most of the trees are dead,” Cox said.
He said people in the area should be aware of their surroundings and aware of where they step. There could still be hazard trees that weren’t removed and burned out areas of soil that can collapse under the weight of a foot.
People should also bring sunscreen with them, since the tree cover leaves the forest floor exposed to sun in many places.
Anyone driving on the forest roads should be aware that they could encounter logging trucks and other equipment. Sometimes roads run through private lands and Cox said the road conditions could be inconsistent for this reason.
Anyone in the Santiam State Forest should stay out of areas that are still closed to the public.
Cox said ODF’s recovery and restoration efforts for the Santiam State Forest began while the 2020 fires were still burning. It’s taken a lot of work to get these lands ready for the public and he’s excited to welcome people back.
“To be able to get some of these lands open for people to just go enjoy as they want is a really rewarding part of this process,” he said.
Cox said the Oregon Department of Forestry is also grateful to volunteers from Trailkeepers of Oregon, Northwest Youth Corps, and Oregon Equestrian Trails who put in many hours helping with restoration.
Maps, closures and a chart with estimated opening dates are available on the Oregon Department of Forestry’s website.