FRANK ARMENDARIZ/CHRONICLE PHOTOAt low tide, a stairway leads to a sandy beach and shellfish flats.

As Oregon begins to reopen I was intending to write up beat news and I will get to that in a bit. As I prepared this article we experienced the hottest day in Oregon history. That came on the heels of the driest year in recent times that now has most of our state in the grips of an extreme drought. Responding to those conditions, the Oregon Department of Fish & Wildlife last week stated that by July 1, 2021 it would be setting a series of “thermal protections” in place that will affect your fishing. There’s a good chance you will be asked to limit your fishing time to early and late in the day, along with other measures, like not overplaying any fish you plan to release and avoiding under-powered equipment. To limit die-off, the bag limits on lakes, and pounds, will likely be increased too.

Also in response to this heat emergency, last week the ODFW suspended all its local trout stocking, with the exception of the McKenzie River, where hatchery trout stocking will continue as scheduled. The complete list of restrictions will likely be announced after this report goes to press. It will be on the ODFW website, also on my Facebook business page, River Trail Outfitters. 

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It was 1909 and western Lane County was thriving on its bounty of natural resources. At the heart of the “emerald empire” were its forests, lush with timber and its rivers teemed with salmon. It was in that rush of economic activity that the Siuslaw Port Authority was founded. It was the first port authority on the Oregon coast and at that time established Florence as a center of a growing Oregon coastal economy.

It was also an important component of Lane County’s reputation as a center of commerce, a reputation the county still enjoys today.

Supported on its docks and serviced in its moorages, the Siuslaw Port Authority attracted commerce and trade from up and down the Oregon coast. It also made possible the shipment of Siuslaw River coho salmon, other seafoods (like shrimp and crab) and, of course, Oregon timber produced at mills near Mapleton, Cushmen and Florence then shipped to points around the world. The skeletons of that era are still visible in the bay.

But over the years the coho salmon began to diminish, federal regulations began to make fewer trees available to cut. For a time the future of a lot of Oregon coast towns including Florence, and the other small hamlets along the Siuslaw were truly in question. Large portions of the port were abandoned and all the remaining wood-processing plants were shuttered in the 1980s. It was a very sad time.

But the port and the Town of Florence were resilient. Its people had already carved a town out of a sandy wilderness and they stepped up to the changing economic reality. Today under the leadership of its locally elected port authority board of directors and the leadership of Port manager David Huntington, the Port of Siuslaw is again a thriving center of commerce on the central Oregon coast, catering to sporting people and families, boaters, RV campers and thousands of other people who visit for the day. All adjacent to restaurants, shops and lodging on the Florence bayfront. 

I took a ride with David in his service kart and toured the immaculate expanses of the port’s RV campground, boat launch, moorages, docks and public spaces – one of the port authority’s successes and it quickly became apparent. It has been partnering with several state and federal agencies in acquiring improvement grants and other funding. That successful outreach also includes partnerships with a number of nonprofit and volunteer groups, too. Like the watershed council and the local STEP group (salmon, trout, enhancement program). In recent years the STEP volunteers acquired funding and volunteer labor to improve the original fish-cleaning station and build a second public processing hut at moorage docks in the port. There is also a public crabbing dock and at low tide collecting shellfish from the bay is popular on the east end of the port property.  

While touring the fish-cleaning facilities, several guide boats that had been out on the ocean came in with limits of salmon. David tells me that the activity has ramped up and last week was the best so far this season. Currently while fishing in the ocean, you are allowed two salmon, only one of which can be a wild chinook and only fin-clipped coho are available for harvest. Salmon fishing in the bay begins in August.

The port boat ramp can handle any boat and trailer combination you can tow, parking at the peak of the salmon season can be challenging but the facility is excellent. The port charges $2, yes, “two dollars” to use their boat landing and that includes parking in the Port Authority parking lot. There is also a boat cleaning station and fueling services, both gas and diesel are available in the port’s fueling station and restrooms.

The Port of Siuslaw also maintains an expansive RV park now with 125 full-service RV campsites. In the midst of the COVID-19 closures the port added about 30% more capacity. Every site now has 30- and 50-amp electrical service, water, septic and wi-fi. Now the RV park is very popular and maintains about a 50% occupancy yearround and reaches 100% on summer weekends and holidays. Huntington told me that all the long-term spaces are reserved for the next 60 days, but if you have some flexibility there is a chance of reserving a space for a two- or three-night stay. Things open up after Labor Day.

You can make a reservation nine months in advance but must wait 90 days after your last stay to secure a new reservation. Reservations for the camp or moorages can be made on the Siuslaw Port Authority website portofsiuslaw.com or by calling 541-997-3040.

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