Time marches on, they say. It’s easy to complain about more crowded trails and longer lift lines. But at the heart of it, things aren’t so bad. Here are some things outdoors-lovers in the Pacific Northwest can be happy about.
It’s back. After the hottest and driest summer and worst fire season on record, rain is back. Rivers have water in them. There’s snow in the mountains. Skiers and paddlers are happy. After two years of drought, it feels like the Northwest again.
A New Kind of Bridge
In late 2015, Portland opened the Tilikum Crossing Bridge, spanning the Willamette River in downtown Portland. It’s the first major bridge built in a US city that carries light rail, streetcar, pedestrians and cyclists…and no cars. Things still look different here.
The Low Carbon Movement
Oil companies have been looking for ways to export tar sands oil from the upper Midwest and Canada. They’ve looked to the Pacific Coast: Portland, Vancouver WA, Bellingham, Vancouver BC and the Great Bear Rainforest. Proposed pipelines and oil trains would bisect the Cascades and tankers would ply the seas, making places like the Columbia River Gorge, the San Juans and the Central Coast of British Columbia exposed to the potential for an Exxon Valdez-size oil spill. But thousands of citizens have taken a stand—and convinced their local governments, including the City of Portland, to oppose terminals and dangerous shipping.
Backpacking is Back
For years, people have pronounced backpacking as the most doomed of outdoor sports. Participation had been declining, with plenty of reasons thrown around: compressed schedules, an aging population, internet addiction and urbanization. But rumors of its death were greatly exaggerated: backpacking grew by 11 percent in the latest outdoor participation survey . Exploring the wilderness by that most basic of ways—with one’s own two feet—is with us again.
The Wolf at the Door
After being nearly exterminated in the west, wolves are back in Oregon and Washington. While humans debate whether they belong, the wolves have voted with their paws. They’ve re-integrated themselves into northwest wildernesses in eastern Oregon and Washington, southern Oregon and the north Cascades. The famous journey of OR‑7, who wandered from Wallowa County to near Susanville, CA in search of a mate, has a happy ending. He found love in southern Oregon, shacked up and started a family. And Red Riding Hood is doing just fine.
Bend’s New River
A few years ago Bend voters funded a new whitewater park where the dangerous Colorado Avenue Dam had stood. The new whitewater park is now open: the first on the west coast, thanks to the combined efforts of paddlers, conservationists and city staff. It sports a floating channel for summer tubers and play waves for whitewater boaters, controlled via high-tech inflatable bladders to adapt to different water levels. Success with the Colorado Avenue Dam has built momentum for removing the aging and unsafe Newport Avenue Dam on the north end of town. A free-flowing river through Bend may not be very far away.
Whales Getting It On
Orca are some of the most photogenic critters around. So what could be cuter than a baby orca? Try six baby orca. The endangered Puget Sound Orca population had six kids born since the end of 2014, four to J pod, which has the most success in rearing kids. It’s a needed boost to the breeding population of Puget Sound. Drone photos of the pod indicate that other whales may also be pregnant.
The Return of Big Adventure
Two adventurous women challenged the idea that epic adventures are a thing of the past. Last winter Sarah Outen (since knighted as Sarah Outen, Member of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire for her efforts) paddled under London’s Tower Bridge and completed a 4‑year “London2London: Via the World” journey by kayak, bike and rowboat that the words “big adventure” couldn’t possibly sum up. And German Freya Hoffmeister completed a 3‑year circumnavigation of South America.
The what? The UGB—Urban Growth Boundary—is an invisible line surrounding every town in Oregon. It keeps sprawl from gobbling up forests and farmland. Portland’s UGB has been fought over ever since it was established in 1979. Now the Metro Council has voted to keep it intact: we’re able to incorporate walkable, bikeable neighborhoods, economic growth and nature within the city without razing forests and farms just outside. It’s a win for both playing outdoors close to home and heading out to the hills.
A Reborn River Revives a Strait
In 2011, the Elwha River was set free. Two dams were removed from the steep river on the Olympic Peninsula, once home to famous salmon runs. Nobody knew what would happen. Kevin Costner has it mostly right: if you un-build it, they will come. The salmon returned almost immediately, and recent studies showed that the river wasn’t just healthy—it was improving the health of the Strait of Juan de Fuca. With the sediment from the Elwha no longer trapped behind dams, beaches and river deltas rebuilt themselves in the Strait. After 100 years, the river is doing its work.