by: SCOTT STAATS PHOTO - Trout Creek Trail leads to some impressive canyon views.I wanted to take a scenic hike but didn’t feel like climbing a mountain, so my wife and I decided on the Trout Creek Trail along the lower Deschutes River. Back in January, we hiked part of the upper end of the trail starting at Mecca Flat. Total trail length from one end to the other is about 7.5 miles.

From the Trout Creek trailhead, we hiked upriver for about 2.5 miles to Frog Springs, where there’s a footbridge over the small creek. There’s also a restroom and bench there. Since the trail follows the old railroad grade, it’s a flat and easy hike. It’s also very scenic. On one side of the trail is the Deschutes River winding its way through the rimrock canyon. On the opposite shore is the Warm Springs Indian Reservation.

East of the trail and high up on the canyon wall is a long stretch of volcanic cliffs, mostly columnar jointing, which is popular with climbers. However, this whole area has a seasonal closure in effect from Jan. 15 to Aug. 31, to protect nesting golden eagles.

“This is our second breeding season with a mandatory seasonal closure to protect the eagles,” said Cassandra Hummel, natural resource specialist with the BLM in Prineville. The year before, that it was a voluntery closure. Violators will now be cited.

I can see why the eagles must like to nest there; the view from those high cliffs must be spectacular. And so is the climbing.

The site has been monitored since about 1998 and the current pair hasn’t produced any young in at least the last three years, but there has been incubation observed. They haven’t selected a nest in the past two years.

There are nests on both sides of the river and as I scanned across with binoculars, I noticed a few horses. My guess is that these are “wild” horses. There were a total of at least 15, including two cute little colts.

An osprey also made an appearance. The bird flew by a few times, hovered and dove toward the water, but never snagged a fish. I also spotted some turkey vultures and at least one of the golden eagles.

Hikers, bikers and rock climbers need to be aware of the closure that protects the eagles. Visitors must not enter the closed area (to the east and uphill of the trail). Past disturbance by humans has been causing some nest failures. When people get near a nest, or even get within view of an eagle on a nest, it can cause an adult bird to abandon the nest. This means eggs can get cold, young don’t get fed and the nest is open to predation. BLM biologists usually open all or part of the closure area by May 15 when the eagles have selected their nest for the year, or a nest attempt has failed.

“May 15 is a pretty conservative date that allows late nesting to occur,” Hummel explained. “If the pair isn’t incubating eggs by that time, then the closure gets lifted.”

She said they’ve had fair cooperation with people so far but there have also been some violations this year. There’s been foot traffic up the slopes, but the climbers have stayed off the cliffs during the closure as far as Hummel can tell.

“A lot of time people will assume, ‘Well, it’s just me and I’m going in for only a little while; what’s it going to hurt?’” she said. “However, they may not think about all the other people who have the same mentality. If you choose to violate the closure, you’re taking a risk. A single person could cause the eagles to abandon a nest or the 15th person could be the one who breaks the camel’s back, so to speak.”

She explained that even though you might still see an eagle on the nest, what you may not see is its mate not coming to the nest delivering food, so the young could starve to death. Studies have shown that when humans are around eagle nests, there are fewer feedings.

After turning around at Frog Springs, and not seeing another person on the trail or a single boat on the river, I realized that this area will soon be packed with people. The scenery, fishing, rafting and other recreational opportunities make the lower Deschutes River one of the most visited rivers in the country.

For those wishing to hike or bike the entire trail one way, consider parking one vehicle at Mecca Flat and another at Trout Creek. The Boy Scouts must like this trail. In January, there was a troop setting up camp at Mecca Flat and we saw a troop camping here on our last visit.

Getting there: From Madras, head north on U.S. Highway 97 for 3.5 miles. Turn left onto Cora Drive and continue onto Clark Drive and Bulkley Lane for 8.3 miles to Gateway. Turn right onto Clemens Drive and follow the gravel road five miles to the Trout Creek Recreation Area. The trail starts at the western end at the da- use area.

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