The scenic waterfall realm that will become Punchbowl Falls Park has passed into Hood River County’s hands.
Western Rivers Conservancy, a Portland conservation non-profit, transferred the 103-acre property at the confluence of the East and West Fork Hood River to the county on Friday. The county signed a purchase and sale agreement to buy the land in late March, but the land actually came into their ownership last week.
Construction on new trails is expected this summer, with planning to refine the park’s designs beginning this week.
Punchbowl Falls Park was realized through a $470,000 grant last year from Oregon Parks and Recreation District, which helped the county buy the land from Western Rivers in order to set up a protected network of trails — a passive use park. There will also be light impact features like restrooms and signage.
Buying the property and developing it into a park was set to cost $1.2 million — Western Rivers put up $575,000, and the rest came from the state grant and funds from the county, Hood River Valley Parks and Recreation District and local donations.
“Protecting Punchbowl Falls is a century-old idea whose time has finally come,” said Ron Rivers, Hood River County Chair. “Punchbowl Falls Park is the result of a true community effort and it will protect an area that is near and dear to all of us.”
A popular hiking and swimming site for more than 100 years, Punchbowl Falls forms when the West Fork Hood River pours over a basalt ledge into a circular bowl carved into the canyon. The pool is surrounded by a natural basalt amphitheater.
“We are glad that our efforts, and the outpouring of support we’ve received, helped make protecting this stretch of the Hood River a reality,” Western Rivers President Sue Doroff said.
County Public Works Director Mikel Diwan said planning for trail work will start this spring, with construction expected in the summer.
“There was a lot of public support for the park last year and much of the work was proposed to be done by volunteers,” Diwan said.
Heather Staten, Hood River Valley Residents Committee executive director, said park groups are going “full steam ahead” now that the land buy hurdle has been cleared.
The Trail Keepers of Oregon will work with local volunteers for the trail work. The Trail Keepers did an early scoping trip in March and the next step is to refine plans, flag the proposed trail and consult with the county on routes and schedules.
Crews will be placing informational signage, installing portable toilets and developing a parking lot this summer.
Although the site has been private property for over a century, people have walked to the falls along old logging roads, where they developed a patchwork of social trails to and along the river. The county hopes new improvements will reduce the impact hikers have on the site.
The park’s physical concept still needs some polishing up, which could take until early summer. A grand opening for the park isn’t scheduled yet, but the county anticipates the park won’t be closed for the sake of a formal event.
“In the meantime, people can still access the property and we simply ask that they be courteous, stay safe and enjoy,” Diwan said.