Boaters - Wildfire has Changed the McKenzie River

McKenzie River - Coburg, OR

Photo Credit: Courtesy of Oregon State Marine Board

by Oregon State Marine Board
(503) 378-8587

A group of agencies and partner organizations are asking boaters to view the McKenzie River “as a whole new river” this year. “It really looks different,” said Randy Henry, Boating Safety Program Manager for the Oregon State Marine Board. People boating the river should treat it like a river that is entirely new to them.”

Henry is part of a team of county, state, and federal agencies and private organizations that has been evaluating how the Holiday Farm Fire will affect boating, fishing and paddling on the river this season. While relatively few burned trees have fallen into the river at this time, it is likely that dead and dying trees will continually fall and create new obstructions with each passing storm, high water event, and even over the next five to eight years to come, he noted.

Ed Alverson is the Natural Areas Coordinator for Lane County Parks and is concerned about public safety in the corridor. “Our state and federal partners have been working diligently on fire recovery in the McKenzie River,” said Alverson. “This is a legendary waterway, and we know that boaters and anglers want to get back up here. We just need to make sure they understand the safety issues facing them.”

Alverson notes that many boat ramps and popular river access sites above Goodpasture Covered Bridge were burned in the Holiday Farm Fire. State and county crews have been working to reopen prime access spots for boaters as quickly and safely as possible. Some access sites will remain closed beyond Memorial Day. Ben and Kay Dorris Park suffered major damage and remain closed. Boaters launching upstream MUST take out at Silver Creek Landing or Rennie’s Landing access sites or they will have to navigate Marten Rapids, a technical Class III rapids that can be dangerous.

Even if an access site is open, says Alverson, it may have limited or no facilities. Fallen trees may also limit mobility. Picnic facilities were generally destroyed in these areas. Popular lunch spots, such as Marten Rapids Park and Whitewater, may be closed due to unstable banks or hazardous trees.

Visitors are also reminded to be respectful of residents and private property. Do not trespass to access the river, and do not photograph destroyed structures or property without the owner’s permission.

Henry and Alverson said that heavy equipment and work crews are working daily to remove hazardous trees and stabilize steep slopes. If you are boating, stay out of closed areas and, if possible, move to the far side of the river when heavy equipment is working on or near the bank.

Online resources are available to help boaters with trip planning and finding boat ramps that are open. Henry suggests boaters visit the Marine Board’s boating access map and also check the Reported Obstructions and Alerts data layer to see reported closures and obstructions. However, because conditions remain dynamic, boaters should proceed carefully, as if they were navigating a river entirely new to them.