Friday, March 7, 2008
(Photo above: Ariel photo of Tsanchiifin Walk, the open area in the lower left quadrant of the photo. The runway strips from the air park in the 1940s are still slightly visible. West 11th/Hwy 126 West runs through the right side of the photo). Take the Tsanchiifin Walk in the West Eugene Wetlands any time of year, and you will encounter remnants of the rare Willamette Valley wet prairie habitat succeeding through restoration and protection. This 3/4 mile trail, just north of the Amazon Creek Bike Path where it intersects Danebo Ave, offers an easy walk through the wetlands. Look for kestrels on the hunt for the next meal, signature marks left behind by a beaver, and dragonflies slicing through the late summer heat. Listen for Pacific Tree Frogs throughout winter, the croak of a Great Blue Heron gliding over head, and the Western Meadowlark as it welcomes spring with its distinct warble. Six new interpretive signs along the trail, designed by local artist Denise Dahn, colorfully illustrate this habitat: the life cycles of the Pacific Tree Frog and dragonflies, the key roles of Tufted Hairgrass for wetland habitat, a spotlight on the little brown bat, and an overview of the present site, as well as its history of human presence.
Formerly known as the Balboa Trail, the Tsanchiifin Walk was renamed in honor of a local band of the Kalapuyan people who occupied the southern end of the Willamette Valley until the 1900s. Past land uses, attempts to mitigate those uses, and natural conditions create a complex mosaic of upland and wetland. Previous drainage for agriculture and dairy farms, and later the use of the site as an airport (Thunderbird Air Park) in the late 1940s and as a drag strip (Balboa Drag Strip) from 1968 until 1979, have left man made ditches, portions of a paved runway and graveled taxiways on fill. These form linear uplands in what otherwise would have been an expanse of natural wet prairie. Borrow areas excavated for fill to build the runways and taxi-ways now form emergent wetlands. An assortment of fill has been dumped unevenly over much of the northwest and southeast corners of the site, and adjacent to Atlantic and Pacific Avenues to the north. Fill from past channel dredging lies in several spots along Amazon Creek. Today, restoration and interpretation takes top priority at this site. The wet prairie provides clean water and homes for wildlife, as well as opportunities to learn more about the ecosystem and human impact on our natural world.
The Tsanchiifin Walk is directly across from the future site of the West Eugene Wetlands Education Center, and the standing West Eugene Wetlands Office, a red farm house at 751 S Danebo Ave. If the front door is open, help yourself to maps and brochures. The gate is open 6 a.m.-11 p.m. every day of the year.