logo home new finds about archives links contact



Tracking Bear

Wildwood Recreation Site & Cascade Streamwatch

We are looking for bear tracks. This is confusing to my two and a half-year old nephew, Nate, who is enamored of trains and so is certain he knows what tracks are. His father, James, and I try to explain to him that these are not railroad tracks, but Nate looks at us skeptically. James and I are excited to hunt down the bear prints but Nate is reluctant. He's not certain that we should be looking for bear anything. But those tracks… I think he tries to be enthusiastic in the quest only because he believes we're teasing and there really will be a train somewhere in the woods.

We cross the Salmon River on the lovely wide arching footbridge and find the elevated boardwalk that takes us into the marshy wetlands of the Wildwood Wetland Trail, part of the Bureau of Land Management's Wildwood Recreation Site near Welches. This 600-acre project of athletic fields, picnic shelters, charming forested picnic sites, and trails, is a fabulous system for kids and perfect for those who do not like to hike into the wilderness but appreciate a near likeness by walking in the woods on asphalt trails.

The site's other main arm, the paved Cascade Streamwatch Trail parallels the Salmon River, a National Wild & Scenic River from the headwaters on Mt. Hood to its confluence with the Sandy River near Brightwood. This trail has interpretive signs, carved benches, poems, stories and myths posted along the way, the highlight of which is the underwater viewing station. It also has access to the river for sitting on boulders, playing in the sand, throwing rocks, or in summer, wading. Linked from these easy trails is the more challenging terrain of Boulder Ridge Trail, a steep, narrow four and a half mile switchback up into the Salmon-Huckleberry Wilderness.

We know about the bear tracks from two eleven-year old boys we met at the fish-viewing windows where we were watching salmon fingerlings in a cross-section of the creek. We three have on baseball caps, but when the boys arrive bareheaded, Nate immediately takes off his cap as though sensing some big boy secret society etiquette. "Aunt Jane," Nate says, nodding in my direction about the hat, but I say it's OK, I'll keep mine on. James keeps his on too, but it is obvious we haven't a clue on how things should be at this moment in the big boy world.

We walk along one of the wetland boardwalk spurs where the boys told us we'd find the paw prints. Once past the scraggly cover of cattails and willows, we can see the open water and soon reach the end of the boardwalk. I lean over the rail, trying to spot the paw prints in the mud near the edge of the pond. There they are! Nate hangs back, then reluctantly agrees to be lifted to peer over the railing at the tracks. He relaxes. It's not a bear at all but just some holes in the mud. And this is what adults call tracks?

A woman joins us and tells us that the black bears have been a nuisance this year, coming down out of the higher woods to maraud yards and garbage cans. She says she's lived in the area for a few years and it's unusual. They don't dare leave cats or small animals out at night. I start to say that only thirty years ago bears were a common sight down this low. Then think, my gosh, thirty years! In grade school we took swimming lessons at Bowman's, now the Resort at the Mountain, bussed in from Estacada. Later, I was a lifeguard there during college summers. Then, the bears would wander right down to the edge of the woods and the picnic tables, helping themselves to the garbage cans by the parking lot, pool and the golf course. The golf course expanded, the woods disappeared and development continues. With logging above and development below, the bears are simply re-establishing territory.

Much to Nate's relief we do not see one.

At lunch we color. Nate draws trains and James draws train tracks and bear-paw tracks to make matters clear. But I draw a bear with wheels for legs. Nate looks at the drawing, then at me. We laugh. "Silly aunt Jane," Nate says. But I know he's wondering.

back to top

back to Mt. Hood overview