Explore Nearby Nature - Ride the River
1) Starting at the Knickerbocker Bike Bridge (near I-5), head west through Alton Baker Park’s Whilamut Natural Area. Believe it or not, the prairie to your right was once a gravel pit, then the Lane County Landfill until the mid 1970s! Just after the old dump, take a left at a wide turnoff toward the river. Walk down to a sandy beach for some rock plopping! Watch for ospreys in the air and cormorants in the dead tree on the opposite bank.
2) Downstream a bit further, after a corridor of cottonwoods, you will pedal into a winding, rolling, tree-tunnel of green. Notice the two Kalapuya Talking Stones on the right side of the path, one before the Autzen Footbridge, and one soon after. Each stone is engraved with a Kalapuya word and its English translation. For more information about the Kalapuya, our area's native people, check out the kiosk near the Autzen Footbridge. Take your time in this special area, and share the path with other park users.
3) Soon after the second Talking Stone, take a right at an unmarked gravel turn off. This path leads to the Park Host Residence...Nearby Nature's home base in Alton Baker Park! Take a peek at our Learnscape Gardens between the yurt and the host residence (call if you want to have a tour) and check out the developing Waterwise Garden in our front yard (a collaborative City of Eugene/Nearby Nature/EWEB project). Across from our facilities, take a wander in the Walama Restoration Butterfly Meadow. Check out the lovely native wildflowers, butterflies, and birds that hang out here.
4) Back on the bike path, you will soon see a left turn off for a boat ramp. There is a paved circle here that is fun to race around on bikes. Watch for cars! West Alton Baker Park is next up on your tour, with its grassy lawns and duck ponds. Kids love to climb on the rock sculptures near the shelters. Observe, but please don't feed the ducks and geese. They do best when they find their own food. After a break here, cross the DeFazio Bike Bridge, and head further downstream on the opposite bank.
5) Shady pedaling will cool you as you approach Skinner Butte’s River Play Playground, a favorite break spot for kids of all ages. Bathrooms and water fountains are available here. A visit to the basalt columns on Skinner Butte’s west side makes a nice side trip for older kids. It's not easy to get there by bike, however, so you may want to lock up your bikes and walk carefully, single file, up Skinner Butte Loop to get to the columns.
6) After River Play, wander further down the path to check out the rainbow of roses and the 160+ year old cherry tree in the Rose Gardens. Bathrooms and water are available here.
7) Along the next stretch of path, you will find the River House's Composting Demonstration Garden, a bird and wading beach, a cool viewing platform (follow the rock wall across from the River House toward the river), and two more small playgrounds (one next to the path and one off to the left). If you've brought your wading shoes, the beach near the River House is a good place to wet your feet!
8) When you see the Greenway Bike Bridge heading toward Valley River Center, you may want to take a side trip to the Delta Ponds, a wonderful place to observe aquatic wildlife. Go across the bridge and head left, toward Goodpasture Island Road. This path will lead you to an 800-foot-long causeway where you can watch for herons, ducks, and dragonflies and to look for signs of beaver. After your stop here, you can go back on the VRC side of the river to Alton Baker Park, you can re-cross the Greenway Bike Bridge and go back the way you came, or you can head out further!
9) If you choose to pedal further, the two-mile stretch from Stults to Howard Avenue is one of the path’s nicest. Heading north from Stults, you pass through cool deciduous forests, then emerge into an open grassland at the Hilliard Street rapids. Shallow pools near shore are teaming with water bugs and snails. Look for paths leading to the river. Bring a container to catch critters, but remember to put them back once you’ve checked them out.
10) Continuing north toward Howard Avenue, you will arrive at a bridge spanning a small river inlet. Resident ducks and geese are usually paddling around here and osprey often fish the river nearby. For a loop ride, follow the path further north and cross the Owosso Bike Bridge. Once inaccessible by bike, the east side of the river in this area now has a bike path that extends all the way back to the VRC. Enjoy great views of the river as you ride along this section.
-- Beth Stein is the Program Director for Nearby Nature, a non-profit education group dedicated to fostering appreciation of nature nearby and providing tools for ecological living. The group hosts nature walks, school programs, and summer daycamps in local natural areas. For more information, call 541-687-9699 or see the group’s web page at www.nearbynature.org.