Root rot continues to complicate the management of the popular campsite near Estacada

Many local residents fondly recall spending time at the Indian Henry Campground, located southeast of Estacada in the Mt. Hood National Forest.

Access to some of the campsite’s amenities has been limited for the past couple of years. But forest officials are hoping to develop a long-term plan to deal with the issues that prompted the closures.

The campground was built in the mid-1970s. Its naturally flat topography and proximity to the Clackamas River made it seem like an ideal location for a campsite, on the surface.

Beneath that surface, though, lurked a problem that continues to complicate the management of the site.

Kathleen Walker is a member of the Estacada-based Clackamas River Ranger District’s west side recreation staff. She said Indian Henry has historically had endemic root rot, which was known by officials when the site first opened.

The forest surrounding the site consists largely of old-growth Douglas fir and Hemlock trees. Those trees happen to be susceptible to phellinus weirii and armillaria solidipes, which are causing the root rot.

Four trees at the site fell between Memorial Day and July 4, 2011. That prompted Indian Henry to be closed for an entire year.

Loop C of the site and a few other locations were opened last year once officials conducted surveys of the trees in the area.

“We felt confident with limited openings,” Walker said.

Around one-third of the site is now available for use and can be reserved. Officials expect to have many of the same sites at Indian Henry open this year as in 2012.

Glenda Goodwyde, a silva culturist in the district’s west side, said the rot is in the soil and attacks trees’ roots. It stays in the soil for 50 to 100 years and spreads from root to root, so removing the stumps of affected trees wouldn’t solve the problem.

Once the roots are destroyed, there is no support for the tree, and it becomes more likely to be knocked over during storms.

The disease that affects the Hemlock starts in old rotting stumps and is spread by spores.

“It’s something we need to be mindful of, because it is a campground,” Goodwyne said.

Walker said staff members conduct tree health surveys and remove hazard trees. Approximately 169 trees, mostly Douglas fir, were removed after a survey in the spring 2011. The trees were then used to enhance fish habitat and for firewood.

To conduct the surveys, staff uses drills and bores to take core samples to determine the extent of internal rot. Guidelines are in place to help decide if the trees must then be taken down.

“We basically grade it,” Walker said.

Dead trees are automatically considered hazardous if they are within falling distance of campsite amenities.

Some trees give visible symptoms when they are affected by root rot. Foliage starts to thin out when trees become weak and can’t photosynthesize as well anymore, which is called “flagging.”

“The trees are all getting older,” Goodwyne said. “So there could be more root rot spread, but we don’t know.”

Another complication is that much of the soil around the site is rocky, making it harder for some trees to grow well there. But Western Red Cedar has been identified as a tree species that could potentially replace the infected Douglas firs. They grow quickly and are not susceptible to the kinds of root rot found at the site.

“We have to look at long-term solutions, because we can no longer use a band-aid approach,” Goodwyne said.

Doing so may take a while, as there are state and federal guidelines, environmental regulations and public input processes that are required by law.

In the meantime, though, visitors can still enjoy the portions of Indian Henry that are open to the public.

“We’re trying to make the campground safe,” Goodwyne said.

Walker recognizes that despite the challenges, many people have fond memories of Indian Henry. It has always had many regular visitors, some of whom have been coming for generations.

“It’s a special place for a lot of folks,” she said.

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