Originally published July 22, 2015 at midnight, updated July 22, 2015 at midnight
Oregon Parks and Recreation District has awarded Hood River County a $470,000 grant to acquire and develop a park at Punchbowl Falls, a waterfall near Dee.
The grant will allow the county to buy the 103-acre property along the Hood River from Western Rivers Conservancy, a Portland conservation non-profit, in order to establish a protected public park: Punchbowl Falls Nature Park.
The property will pass into the county’s hands by the end of the year and most park improvements, including a gravel parking lot, informational signage, portable toilets and an enhanced trail system, will be completed by next summer.
“The people of Hood River County will be able to enjoy this iconic resource for many years to come,” said Dave Meriwether, Hood River County Administrator.
The OPRD advisory committee recommended the Punchbowl application last month, but it was uncertain until last week if the funding would come through. At a June 30 Hood River County Board of Commissioners meeting, Meriwether said the Punchbowl project was “fifth in line” at the state committee.
OPRD’s Local Government Grant Program gives $4 million annually to Oregon communities for outdoor recreation projects — the Punchbowl grant accounts for about 12 percent of that total funding pool. Last year, the county failed to secure the grant, but the tides have turned in their favor.
Meriwether attributed the success to a combined effort from Western Rivers, the state and local resident groups.
“We wish to acknowledge the outstanding efforts of the Western Rivers Conservancy, OPRD, Heather Staten and the Hood River Valley Residents Committee and the many supporters and volunteers who made this possible,” said Meriwether.
Western Rivers Conservancy first began purchasing parcels along the Hood River in 2006, eventually assembling the 103 acres that will become Punchbowl Falls Nature Park. The total acquisition and development budget is $1.2 million — half of that will be put up by Western Rivers, and the rest comes from the state grant and funds from the County, Hood River Parks and Rec District and local donations.
“Thanks to decades of hard work by valley residents, the Hood River is becoming a stronghold for Columbia River salmon and steelhead,” said Phil Wallin, Vice President of Western Rivers Conservancy. “Protecting the confluence of the East and West Forks at Punchbowl Falls is (a) historic step forward in that process.”
At previous meetings, Hood River Valley Residents Committee, a local land use group, stressed that the park is destined as a “passive use” area, as low cost and natural as possible. The only major changes to the scenic area will be new trails, a gravel parking lot and a public restroom. The trail system — which will double in length — will demand the most labor and costs.
“Until now, the trails have consisted of an old logging road and a spider web of social trails that people have created on the bluffs above the West Fork,” said Heather Staten.
Staten said a new “single sustainable trail” called Forest Loop Trail will replace the old network of pathways. The county will oversee volunteers constructing the trails, and Trail Keepers of Oregon, a Portland non-profit, will design the trails, provide the tools and hire crew foremen. Local volunteers will provide the “trail building muscle,” said Staten.
At the regular meeting Monday night, Meriwether updated commissioners on volunteer efforts for the county park, now that it has secured grant funding. Meriwether said Punchbowl proponents are working to create a Friends of Punchbowl Falls group.
The Friends plan to coordinate volunteer efforts and donation funds as the nascent park comes into being.
Doug’s store in downtown Hood River is hosting the kick-off fundraising event for Punchbowl Park, Saturday, July 25 from 5 to 8 p.m. The street will be closed, so that guests can mingle and enjoy music by Tony Smiley, participate in a silent auction, enjoy Double Mountain beer and food by Tofurky. Teva shoes will match all sandal sales up to $1,000 as a donation to park improvements.