Molalla River to be protected as 'wild and scenic river'
With hard work and perhaps a bit of "magic," a 21-mile stretch of the upper Molalla River finally will have protection as a national wild and scenic river, pending presidential approval.
A bill including this protection passed with bipartisan support in the senate on Feb. 12 with a vote of 92-8 and then in the house on Feb. 26 with a vote of 363-62, sending the bill to the president's desk on March 6, where it is expected to become law this month in the absence of a veto or refusal to sign.
Members of the Molalla River Alliance and the Molalla River Watch groups are more than pleased.
"What can I say? We're just thrilled," said John Atkins, MRA president. "Since the Molalla River Alliance has been involved in this, it's been 10 years of effort. We want to commend our senators, who worked together on this and have introduced wild and scenic river status for the last 10 years; and a leader in the house, of course has been Kurt Schrader. Every single year for the last 10 years, he has introduced a wild and scenic Molalla River bill."
Senators Jeff Merkley and Ron Wyden, along with U.S. Rep. Kurt Schrader, have for years sought protection of the area under the Oregon Wildlands Act and the Molalla River Wild and Scenic Rivers Act. But like many other states' similar bills, these never made much ground in congress.
This year though, members of the Natural Resources Committee, led by Chair Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, packaged more than 120 public lands, resources, conservation and water management bills together under one larger bill, S. 47, the Natural Resources Management Act.
"Virtually every state in the union has something in this bill," Atkins said. "Those protections have been floating around in congress for years, and nothing has ever happened, just like the Molalla Wild and Scenic bill. But, for some magic reason, everything came together this session. It was magic."
Schrader too expressed gratefulness over the bill finally moving forward.
"I am proud to have introduced and worked on this Wild and Scenic designation in collaboration with so many dedicated members of the Molalla community back home," Schrader said in a press release. "…The idea was born out of a small gathering of local river stewards and Molalla residents, who were looking to protect their river, preserve essential fish habitat, and aid their local economy by increasing tourism. I thank my colleagues for their support today and for all of the hard work that has gone into preserving the beauty, history, and ecosystem of the river for generations to come."
The law includes the Oregon Wildlands section, which designates two portions of the upper Molalla River as "recreational" under the National Wild and Scenic Rivers System. This includes a 15.1-mile segment at the Glen Avon Bridge and a 6.2-mile segment of the Table Rock Fork.
According to Atkins, fortunately, the Bureau of Land Management has treated the portion of the river as wild and scenic, but this law provides that permanent protection.
Originally, the Oregon Wildlands Act involved designating 24,100 miles of the Molalla River Corridor as the Molalla National Recreation Area, but this was removed from the bill because of objections over the loss of potential timber revenue shared between the federal government and the counties, according to Atkins.
This didn't rob any excitement over the bill passing senate and house though.
"I'm overjoyed," said Bill Taylor, MRW chair. "It's been a long time coming, and I'm very happy to see it happen. I think it will bring positive publicity and tourism, and perhaps more funding for recreation."
Schrader affirmed the potential for the above-mentioned benefits, saying the recreational designation has shown to provide a positive economic, social and cultural impact to local communities.
The Molalla River likely will now join portions of the Clackamas River and the Sandy River as wild and scenic.
"I think it will give the Molalla River more status, as it were," Atkins said. "…This will be yet another river in Clackamas County with wild and scenic features, which could become a draw to visitors."
Already in the last three years, the alliance, the River Watch group and the BLM have worked together to make improvements to the area, including establishing campsites, cleaning and funding police patrolling of the area, per Atkins and Taylor.
Now, they begin four new trail projects, and the alliance continues to advocate to bring cell towers to the area.
The groups are holding a celebration at the White Horse Restaurant on Tuesday, March 19 from 5-7 p.m. Schrader will be there, likely from 5:30-6:30 p.m. There is also potential that either Wyden or Merkley may make an appearance. The public is invited to attend.