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June 28, 2013
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Guest column: Swiftwater Park invaluable to Douglas County residents

When I heard that the county was considering selling Swiftwater Park, I thought there was some mistake. Surely they meant a different property.

There was no mistake. A Coos County timber management company has been hired to appraise the 211-acre parcel, lot 200 on the map at www.ormap.net/map.cfm?mapID=185693.

Then I thought, “Our commissioners and parks director must not know this property.” I’d like to share with them and with readers this special parcel of land that we, the citizens of Douglas County, own.

The west edge is near Swiftwater Road and the park’s pavilion. The property rolls downhill through old-growth forest and crosses 3/4 mile of the North Umpqua Trail. It continues to the banks of the North Umpqua River, from just upstream of Deadline Falls, east past Cable Crossing Wayside, surrounding about 3/4 mile of world-renowned fly-fishing-only water. Then it crosses the highway, climbing the opposite hillside roughly to the high-power transmission lines.

Of course, the county can’t sell the trail, river and roads. The roads are excluded from the tax lot. The trail is on a perpetual easement, 15 feet each side of centerline. And all the people of Oregon own the river to the ordinary high water mark.

As a volunteer with the Glide Wildflower Show, I help lead a walk introducing visitors to wildflowers in their natural habitat. The Swiftwater start of the North Umpqua Trail was chosen because it is so near Glide and offers an abundance of plants. For our walk in April, we identified 12 species of trees, 14 flowering shrubs, seven ferns, and 47 flowering plants.

I didn’t realize that most of the walk is on county property, not Bureau of Land Management.

Cameras click every few feet, capturing tiny lavender fairy slippers, lavishly spotted fawn lilies, an uncommon giant trillium. Visitors learn to distinguish the greenery carpeting the ground: shiny goldthread with exotic seedpod whorls; oxalis folding its leaves against the sunlight; inside-out flowers with duck-foot-shaped leaves.

In the marshy area, we pass photogenic but stinky skunk cabbage and bottlebrush-like giant horsetail fern, a living fossil from the Paleozoic era. Excited kids search under wild ginger leaves for blood-red blossoms, shaped like alien life forms.

I have just an amateur’s perspective of the botanical value of this land. Others could speak more knowledgeably about the plants, mushrooms and fungi, birds and animals, fishery, archaeology, geology, history. Poetry alone could express the scenic and spiritual values of this unique location.

I have walked many trails in Douglas County. None surpass Swiftwater in its combination of natural beauty, biological diversity, and accessibility to the public.

Each day of the show, 15 to 20 people take the walk. Dozens of others pass our group. Middle-age couples, teenagers, families with small children. Senior citizens walking slowly, joggers zipping by. A Cub Scout pack. Cyclists with gear for a long ride up the trail.

According to the BLM, 9,500 people per year hike from the Swiftwater trailhead. About 90 percent go only a mile or two, experiencing primarily the county land.

The property lies within 1/4 mile of the river, which puts it in the North Umpqua Scenic Waterway. Oregon’s statute governing scenic waterways says, “Primary emphasis shall be given to protecting the aesthetic, scenic, fish and wildlife, scientific and recreation features, based on the special attributes of each area.” Adjacent land shall be managed to “protect or enhance the aesthetic and scenic values of the scenic waterways.”

Frankly, I don’t understand why a timber company would buy this property. Its aesthetic, biological, and recreation values, as well as easy accessibility and high use by the public, guarantee strong opposition to any proposed logging. In fact, Oregon’s Scenic Waterway statutes allow the state to condemn scenic waterway land if a proposed use would impair the waterway’s natural beauty.

I understand why it’s been hard to find comparables for the appraisal. Has any piece of land been sold that contains State Scenic Waterway, world-renowned fly-fishing water, a well-used hiking trail and majestic old-growth forest?

Douglas County commissioners and administrators manage county land in trust for citizens, who are the true owners.

Attempting to sell Swiftwater Park to private interests would violate that trust. If the county can’t afford maintenance, an arrangement conveying the land to BLM at a nominal charge would be appropriate. Using this piece of land to help balance the budget is not.

I would be glad to introduce our county commissioners and parks director to this priceless parcel. It’s less than a half-hour’s drive from Roseburg.

Like the many citizens who enjoy it, they will learn that its timber value is insignificant compared to the value of its trees and water, plants and animals, scenery and sanctity entrusted to us for future generations.

Nancy Tague, a Glide Wildflower Show collector for 10 years, lives in Idleyld Park. She can be reached at nancytague@centurytel.net.


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The News-Review Updated Jun 28, 2013 02:00PM Published Jun 28, 2013 12:20PM Copyright 2013 The News-Review. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.