Community Forest Solutions Team first meeting to be Jan. 7

Scott Swanson

The Oregon Solutions Project team established to create a South Santiam Community Forest Corridor between Sweet Home and Cascadia will hold its first meeting from 1 to 5 p.m. Monday, Jan. 7, at the River Center in Lebanon.

The purpose of the meeting will be to develop a detailed draft vision statement with long-term goals and anticipated outcomes for the project, the goal of which is to enhance recreational and economic opportunities in the 12-mile stretch of forest along the South Santiam River east of Sweet Home.

Gov. John Kitzhaber established the team, which is based out of the Oregon Solutions program at the National Policy Consensus Center in the Hatfield School of Government at Portland State University, in November. The group that will meet is a collection of “stakeholders” – people representing organizations or community groups “who have strong, objective interest in this project,” said Steve Bryant, an Oregon Solutions staff member and project manager.

The goal of creating a community forest will include a variety of objectives, he said.

“Most significantly, we’re exploring opportunities to connect East Linn County with the South Santiam River Corridor between the Sweet Home mill site and the National Forest Service boundary 12 miles upstream,” he said. Among the issues that will be discussed are:

n Watershed restoration to improve fisheries in the area.

n “More active” forestry management in an attempt to generate jobs “not just necessarily wood products, but secondary products like berries and mushrooms and other forest products.” Participants are interested in developing ways to collect woody debris for biomass products.

n Recreation opportunities. “That seems to be the big objective,” Bryant said. “How can we improve recreational opportunities not only for Linn County residents but for visitors, who will help bolster the local economy? He said trail development will be high on the list of priorities and there will be talk of possibly extending parks facilities.

Participants have shown strong interest in developing a trail stretching from the proposed county park on the former Western States Reliance property, north of the Sweet Home Police station and the city yard on 24th Avenue, along the river to the Santiam Wagon Road east of Cascadia.

Another discussion topic will be river recreation.

Bryant said he was on his way to Bend last week when he saw a group of kayakers who appeared to be getting out of the South Santiam River at Cascadia State Park late in the day.

“It was 33 degrees and raining cats and dogs and there they were,” he said. “The upper section is pretty wild but that’s what they seem to enjoy.”

n “The Cascadia Cave site is certainly an important project,” Bryant said. Discussion will center on how to protect the site and getting the tribes involved in the process of transferring the site from private to public ownership, with supervision by the U.S. Forest Service.

“It’s just about promoting this whole corridor and finding ways to stimulate more job creation and recreation and better environmental health of the watershed,” he said.

In his designation letter, the governor appointed Thomas Maness, dean of the College of Forestry at Oregon State University, and Cynthia Solie, executive director of the Cascades West Council of Governments, as leaders – called “co-conveners” – of the group. The full project team is expected to meet approximately six times over the next year with some subcommittees meeting more frequently, Bryant said. Participants in the group, which numbers about 25 people, represent various local, state and federal government agencies and legislative offices, and private citizens and landowners.

The end product will be what Oregon Solutions calls a “Declaration of Cooperation” which is a statement of intent and non legally-binding commitments from all of the participants outlining actions to be taken in the future to accomplish the project goals.

The Jan. 7 meeting is open to the public, but will not be a forum for public testimony, he said. County Commissioner Will Tucker is working on putting together a town hall-style meeting that will allow members of the public to weigh in on the project.

Bryant said Lebanon was chosen as the location for the Jan. 7 meeting due to its central location for team members, who will be coming from all over the valley.