By Janet Goetze
For the Hollywood Star News
Northeast Portland resident Dawn Nilson discovered Sauvie Island shortly after arriving in Oregon 20 years ago, but she often became frustrated while trying to find a birding area or a place to put her kayak in the water.
The 26,000-acre island, about the size of Manhattan but with only one access bridge, isn’t criss-crossed with roads, and a newcomer may drive 30 miles in the wrong direction while trying to find a beach or boating area, she said.
Available maps aren’t detailed, and the road system is hard to discern on most of them, said Nilson, an environmental consultant for the past 30 years. Several months ago, she was between assignments and decided to create her own guide with clear outlines of roads and the waters.
The Sauvie Island Recreation Guide: Birding, Boating, Bicycling, Beaches, Berries & More, sized to fold into a back pocket, is printed on a recycled material that makes it water resistant and tear proof. The central section is a map, but most of the guide is filled with information, Nilson noted. She has listed five beaches, seven boat access points, two designated trails, and four birding sites. Other points of interest are part of the guide, too, including Howell Territorial Park, the James Bybee House and the Warrior Rock trailhead of the 7-mile, round-trip trail along the Columbia River leading to Oregon’s smallest lighthouse.
Nilson has detailed descriptions of what to expect at specific sites. Walton Beach, for instance, is the busiest beach and the one with the easiest access. The North Unit Beach is the quietest, it is the farthest from the Sauvie Island Bridge and it has limited vehicle access.
Among the details Nilson gathered are the sites’ miles from the Crackerbarrel store near the bridge and their GPS coordinates. For cyclists, she notes the miles for various sections of the roads.
“With these descriptions,” she said, “you can plan ahead and see how far you want to go.”
She also created a boating suitability table, listing lakes and waterways and indicating what times of the year they are suitable to use. Island waters are subject to tidal action, Nilson said, which means a specific lake may have water some months but become a mud flat in other times of the year. The map also clearly outlines the private property, which occupies most of the island’s southern land, plus smaller parcels, mostly along the Columbia River and Multnomah Channel.
Most of the island’s northern portion is the Sauvie Island Wildlife Area, which includes 11,543 acres operated by the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife to protect and improve waterfowl habitat. It is open to the public from mid-April through September. Some areas are closed during hunting season, which usually is October to the following April.
Under “Important Things to Note,” Nilson advises would-be visitors that the island has no gas stations, so the tank should be nearly full before venturing across the bridge. Parking permits are required in the wildlife area, no rental boats are on the island, camping is prohibited and dogs must be on a leash. Nilson advises people to pack a lunch or take snacks for an island visit. Food selections are limited on the island, she said in her Rose City Park neighborhood home as she talked about her adventure in developing the guide.
She had saved money over the years for a sabbatical, and she put some of that into the costs of materials, printing and getting the assistance of a graphic designer for developing the map. When she worked on marketing the guide through local sporting, kayaking and book outlets, the people at REI told her to get a bar code, a $150 item she hadn’t considered. Copyright was additional paperwork and expense. Instead of sending the project to Asia for printing, which would have been cheaper, she selected a Northeast company, Natural Press, for its commitment to environmentally responsible offset printing.
“I wanted to keep the jobs locally,” Nilson said. “It’s a product that comes out of Northeast Portland entirely.”
Some people she consulted in the state agency are worried the guide could bring more visitors to the island than are manageable. On its website, the Sauvie Island Community Association counted more than 38,500 visits in July 2015. However, Nilson said she believes the guide will provide information to responsible people planning ahead for outdoor experiences.
“It’s magical,” she said of the island. She went on to describe a day on the wildlife refuge, where she enjoys kayaking and watching the activities of birds.
“Cows are grazing all over the refuge,” she said. “One day, I came face-to-face with a cow. It was one of those transcendental moments when you feel at one with the universe.”