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Autumn colors at Willamette Mission State Park adorn area's top recreation draw

PMG PHOTO: JUSTIN MUCH - The Wheatland Ferry is among the features and sights surrounding Willamette Mission State Park. "Floodplain forests once dominated the landscape along the Willamette River," imparts an informative recreational trail sign. "Today, as low as 10% of Willamette floodplain forests that were present in the 1850s remain."

That historical foliage still present in this neck of the Willamette Valley woodlands are either somewhat preserved or under preservation efforts to help keep much of its historical ecological essence intact.

Before the late-autumn and midwinter rains pelt the area in earnest, effectively closing off vast swaths of Willamette Mission State Park for extended periods, the fall-colored foliage provides a season ripe for usage by recreationists ranging from birdwatchers to equestrian riders to disc golfers to kayakers.PMG PHOTO: JUSTIN MUCH - Recreation of all sorts abounds at Willamette Mission State Park, roughly located between Gervais and Keizer.

The Oregon State Parks website declares this a year-around playground, but as frequenters know all too well, that full-fledged slate can be stunted significantly during the grayest months when winter rains swell Willamette waters which overflow roadways and severely sodden the fields and mixed-use trails.

Peak summer months often yield a bevy of visitors to the Wheatland-area attraction, but the autumn months provide a perfect trailing off of that activity while users can take in comfortable open spaces, tree-lined and river-cresting pathways and historic walnut-orchard-dappled acreage. In the mildly wet fall days, mixed-use trail tracks sport a combination of horseshoe-print, hiking-boot and hybrid bicycle-tire impressions, sometimes all three creasing the same few yards of shallow mud-topped pathways winding through fields accommodating wildlife and along river-crested recreational thruways.PMG PHOTO: JUSTIN MUCH - Autumn colors and sights are a popular draw to Willamette Mission State Park.

The winds will soon sweep the deciduous trees free of leaves for the season. But for the few fleeting months of fall, the landscape holds sway to accommodate the last forays of seasonal excursions.

Meanwhile, making such open-air offerings available to park goers helps to accommodate more than merely the "Go-Play" OSP motto. As the signage explaining the floodplains and restoration of critical habitat conveys:

"Restoration of forests in areas prone to flooding provides essential habitat for fish and wildlife and conserves biological diversity."

At Willamette Mission that entails 200 acres of floodplain restoration; removal of non-native and planting of native vegetation; ensuring habitat for diverse species of birds, fish and other wildlife; collaborative efforts between the parks department, Willamette Riverkeeper, funding partners, Oregon Watershed Enhancement Board and Willamette Investment Program.PMG PHOTO: JUSTIN MUCH - Mixed-use trail cresting the Willamette River at Willamette Mission State Park.

The informative plaque also advises: "Park users may experience occasional trail closures and see crews working during daytime hours."

Those waning autumnal daytime hours diminish park-use frequency as fall stretches along, but they still produce a welcome window into the ebbing recreational opportunities of the year — especially on a sunny day.PMG PHOTO: JUSTIN MUCH - Mixed-use trail with hitching posts cresting the river at Willamette Mission State Park.

Photo gallery

To view Willamette Mission State Park fall photo gallery, visit

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