Heart and Soul on the CZ Trail
As soon as her shoes crunch on the pebbles and twigs, Jeannine, "JJ" Duehren is home.
The Scappoose woman and her husband live within walking distance to the Crown Zellerbach Trail. The former logging road turned recreational trail has become one of Columbia County's most notable natural spaces.
As such, it's also become a second home for Duehren.
"Five days a week," Duehren replies, when asked how often she uses the trail. "I'm either hiking, cycling or horseback riding."
She's an ardent advocate of the trail, and hiking trails in general. Duehren, who rescues horses, purchased her home precisely because of its proximity to the trail.
She now serves on the Scappoose Parks Advisory Committee and was also recently appointed to Columbia County's Crown Zellerbach Trail Advisory Committee.
"CZ Trail is, in my opinion, the best linear trail we have," she says of the 23-mile former logging road that was converted into a public trail upon Columbia County's purchase of the road in 2004. The CZ Trail spans a large portion of the county, starting with the Chapman Landing trailhead in Scappoose and meandering all the way to Vernonia.
While former longtime county commissioner Tony Hyde is regarded as a critical figure in getting the road converted into a public trail during his time in office, Duehren now plays a significant role in the public's awareness of the trail.
When Duehren noticed there was very little information available about the trail, she took it upon herself to start a Facebook page for it roughly two years ago.
Since then, she's become the de facto information source for the CZ Trail.
"There are no signs, there's no maps for the trail," she notes.
Columbia County's forests and parks department maintains no visitor information about the trail online.
The page was made on her own volition, but so far, she's had no complaints from Columbia County.
Columbia County Commissioner Alex Tardif said the commissioners are aware of Duehren's page.
"It's great that JJ is so excited about the CZ Trail," Tardif says.
As to whether the county takes issue with a private citizen running an information page for a county-owned resource, Tardif acknowledges that anyone with a social media account can create a page, so the county may be limited in its ability to control any citizen-created content.
"I'll take pictures of wildflowers, or spots that are really visually interesting," Duehren notes of the content she posts.
The page also alerts visitors to dangerous locations along the trail, like a fault in the
road or a landslide from a hill above.
Duehren can't do anything about the lack of signage and information on the trail itself, but the CZ Trail Facebook page has no shortage of updates from a hiker's perspective.
Some of the page's posts have garnered 50 shares by Facebook users.
Duehren laments the unaddressed trail maintenance issues, but she understands the root of them.
"The challenge here is just money," Duehren says. "I mean, with $400,000 for all the parks in the county, you just can't do it."
While she can't fix the lack of resources, her enthusiasm and initiative may help guide the future of the trail.
With Duehren's recent appointment to the seven-member CZ Trail Advisory Committee, she's hoping her user experiences and knowledge of current trail conditions can translate into helpful guidance for commissioners and future development and improvements along the trail. Hyde will also serve on the advisory committee.
Duehren credits Hyde and current Scappoose City Manager Michael Sykes as vital champions of the trail around the time the county purchased it.
In recent months, Duehren has pressured the county to dispatch maintenance crews to problem areas on the trail, to no avail.
"That's why people like JJ are so important to have on the CZ Trail Advisory Committee," Tardif says.
'Feed the soul'
Just before noon on a Tuesday, Duehren is headed to one of her favorite areas, near Walker Road.
Alongside her, the rushing waters near Bonnie Falls several feet below make for the only audible background noise.
She's got her dog, "Minnie," in tow.
Duehren doesn't hesitate to greet a cyclist with a dog chasing along at his side, pointing out basalt rock and scenic areas, eagerly sharing tips on must-see portions of the trail.
"You don't really have to dress it up," she says of the trail, noting outdoor recreational sites are one of the
biggest tourism draws in Oregon.
One of the reasons Duehren dispels such affinity for the CZ Trail is its accessibility, which earns it a "moderate" to "easy" rating by Trailkeepers of Oregon.
It's a linear trail, meaning it goes from one point to another absent of connecting trails. Its relatively gentle topography as a former transit route attracts cyclists and horseback riders.
That's important for folks with mild disabilities.
"I was born with a partially collapsed lung at birth," Duehren notes. "And I don't really talk about it much, but I also have cerebral palsy."
She says the notion of hiking can scare people away, but the CZ Trail is more of a nature path in most areas.
"I understand how hard it is for people who aren't athletes," she says.
She hopes future improvements will make it even easier for more people to experience the trail.
Places like this, that are wild and beautiful, feed the soul," Duehren says.