Elk Rock Island is closed due to wildfire damage

On the evening of September 9, 2020, a wildfire broke out on eastern edge of Elk Rock Island in Milwaukie that burned just under two acres of natural area. NCPRD and the city closed both Spring Park’s Natural Area and Elk Rock Island to allow staff to begin the process of wildfire damage restoration. A beloved community treasure on the Willamette River, Elk Rock Island contains sensitive habitats that are home to an array of plant and animal species. We will be working with City of Milwaukie and other local agencies to begin the process of wildfire damage restoration. Please help us in our efforts to restore this important and unique site by honoring the current closure.


CLOSURES

Elk Rock Island is closed to the public due to wildfire damage. Portions of Spring Park, including the natural area and trail leading to Elk Rock Island, are also closed. Please respect these closures. The more people that violate the closure, the longer it will take for the site to recover and the greater the impact to community at-large.

Closed now through March 31, 2021

The existing closure of both Elk Rock Island and Spring Park will be in place through the end of March 2021. This date is subject to change.


RESTORATION UPDATES (Posted Sept. 22) 

The City of Milwaukie’s arborist continues to monitor wildfire tree damage and hazard tree risk at Elk Rock Island. Mitigation of hazardous trees has been implemented. NCPRD staff, with support from stakeholders, documented post-burn soil conditions and created a list of native plant species for erosion control and restoration seeding. Stakeholders include Natural Resources Conservation Service, the Metro Native Plant Center, Portland Bureau of Environmental Services, volunteers and retired Portland Parks & Recreation staff who previously worked at Elk Rock Island.

NCPRD purchased weed-free straw and native seed to spread in the burn areas, where soil burn severity and soil erosion potential was moderate to high. Perennial shrubs, like thimbleberry, have already re-sprouted in lower burn severity zones. In the burn unit, NCPRD will move the trail away from steep slopes and stop trail erosion with two small trail reroutes. NCPRD and City of Milwaukie staff will monitor trees, erosion, and vegetation and make additional management action recommendations as needed. As part of the FEMA emergency response, the timeframe for restoration and repairs is two years.


ALTERNATE PARKS AND NATURAL AREAS

With the closure of Elk Rock Island and the Spring Park Trail, we encourage you to explore other parks in the district. NCPRD offers many parks that provide connections to nature and recreational opportunities. Below is a list of other nearby parks to visit, and you can learn more about all NCPRD parks here.


FAQ 

What happened at Elk Rock Island?

  • Elk Rock Island suffered extensive damage during the historic windstorm and wildfire that took place on Sept. 9, 2020. The park contains downed trees, hazard trees, hanging limbs, loose rocks, high erosion potential, sensitive soils and vegetation, and trail damage.

How bad was the wildfire?

  • The wildfire burned through the southern and eastern edge of the island. The severity of the burn varied depending on the amount of fuel on the ground. Some areas burned with high severity. City and Parks staff have closed the island for the safety of patrons and to allow the natural area to heal and regenerate.

Did any trails on Elk Rock Island sustain damage?

  • Yes, the trail loop on Elk Rock Island suffered damages resulting from soil erosion, fallen trees and burned root structures. Trail repairs are scheduled for fall/winter 2020.

Is Elk Rock Island closed?

  • Yes, both Elk Rock Island and parts of Spring Park are closed to the public as of Sept. 9, 2020. This closure includes hiking, water recreation access, and all other forms of recreational activity on additional lands and trails that provide access to Elk Rock Island and the fire perimeter until March 31, 2021.

How long will Elk Rock Island and Spring Park be closed?

  • Elk Rock Island and portions of Spring Park, including the trail, are closed until March 31, 2021, for the protection of public health and safety.

Why is it necessary to close the site?

  • This closure is necessary to provide protection for park users, fire district and law enforcement personnel, and other NCPRD and City of Milwaukie employees and partners conducting emergency response work in the aftermath of the wildfire. Also, this will allow sufficient time for new plants to grow back into the burn areas, and for staff to evaluate ongoing tree hazards and erosion problems. Patrons walking in the burn area would trample fragile plants trying to establish in the exposed soil, introduce invasive weed seeds, and contribute to further erosion by compacting soil.

Why is the site still closed? I don’t see smoke or fire on the Island.

  • The wildfire is out, however, a multitude of remaining hazards have made lands within the fire perimeter unsafe for entry, including unstable slopes prone to rock fall, fire affected trees prone to windthrow, and infrastructure damage. City and Parks staff cannot guarantee the safety of patrons on the Island.

Why can’t you just close off the burned section of the island?

  • Most of these hazards are within the fire perimeter on Elk Rock Island. However, to effectively manage the area closure, all of Elk Rock Island and portions of Spring Park must be closed to limit access to the fire perimeter.

Can I take my boat/paddle board/etc. to the island?

  • No, the park remains closed to all visitors, including those arriving via the river. This closure prohibits going into or being upon all park, trails, and natural area lands administered by North Clackamas Parks and Recreation District and the City of Milwaukie.

Who is enforcing the closure?

  • North Clackamas Parks and Recreation District (NCPRD) and the City of Milwaukie, in partnership with the Clackamas County Fire District #1, placed Elk Rock Island under a closure on September 9, 2020. If people see individuals out on the island, in conflict with the closure, they are encouraged to call the Milwaukie Police Department non-emergency number (503) 786-7500. Milwaukie Police Department prioritize calls for public safety, and may not be able to respond right away.

How long will Spring Park be closed?

  • Portions of Spring Park, including the trail, will remain closed until March 31, 2021. City and Parks staff are evaluating conditions on the island in view of opening after this date.

Why is Spring Park closed in addition to Elk Rock Island?

  • Most of these hazards are within the fire perimeter on Elk Rock Island. However, to effectively manage the area closure, all of Elk Rock Island and portions of Spring Park must be closed to limit access to the fire perimeter.

What parts of Spring Park are closed?

  • The closure includes the soft surface trail and natural area lands of Spring Park, including the beach land along the Willamette River. The soft surface trail starts at the southeast portion of the park entrance at the intersection of SE 19th Ave. and Sparrow St. This closure does not include the park’s entrance area plaza, bicycle racks, picnic area, lawn and playground.

How has the wildfire made Elk Rock Island hazardous?

  • There are several standing dead trees and the wildfire burned vegetation exposing the soil to rapid erosion, contributing to an increased risk of rock falls and tree falls.

It looks like there are dead trees still standing out there. Why hasn’t anyone cut them down?

  • Many trees appear dead after a wildfire. They shed their leaves and needles, and the bark is scorched. However, the tree may still be alive inside and sprout new leaves in the spring. For many trees, waiting for the next leaf season confirms if they survived the wildfire or perished.

If a tree is a hazard, why don’t you cut it down?

  • Many trees have been identified as future fall hazards. At this time, staff can not accurately forecast when they will fall. Standing dead trees provide valuable habitat for the wildlife that live on the island. Leaving these trees standing allows wildlife to use them and gives staff the time to evaluate the hazard over a longer time frame.

If City and Parks staff are on the island doing restoration, why isn’t it safe for everyone else?

  • Staff are aware of the identified hazard trees, and their fall zones. They take extra precautions when working around these trees, wear hard hats, and stay away during dangerous times, like periods of wind and during or after storm events.

Why do I see some people go into Spring Park or be on Elk Rock Island?

  • NCPRD and the City of Milwaukie are working with partners in the recovery. Partners will be helping with habitat recovery. The following persons are exempt from this order:
    • Any person with a permit, license, or contract specifically authorizing the otherwise prohibited act or omission.
    • Any Federal, State, or local official or member of an organized rescue or firefighting force in the performance of an official duty.
    • Owners or lessees of land within the closed area.

How Can I help?

  • Right now, the most important thing people can do to help is respect the closure and not enter Elk Rock Island or the closed areas of Spring Park. The more people that violate the closure, the longer it will take for the site to recover, and the greater the impact to community at-large. Instead, please visit other sites within the area including Rivervilla Park, Milwaukie Bay Park, Meldrum Bar Park, Oaks Bottom Park, and Mount Talbert Nature Park.

When might volunteer opportunities be available?

  • Once NCPRD has a better understanding of how volunteers can help and be safe during the COVID-19 pandemic, we will work with partner organizations to organize some limited volunteer events.

What do I do if I see person on Elk Rock Island that doesn’t appear to be staff?

  • If people see individuals out on the island, in conflict with the closure, they are encouraged to call the Milwaukie Police Department non-emergency number (503) 786-7500. Milwaukie Police Department prioritize calls for public safety, and may not be able to respond right away

For updates on the Elk Rock Island and Spring Park closures, please check back here or follow us on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. For questions, email parks@ncprd.com.

Fire Damage Images