Touring MERA

By Bill Rautenstrauch, The Observer November 13, 2009 01:34 pm

Cody Vavra, Union County’s Mount Emily Recreation Area liaison (left) led the way on a recent tour of the MERA for Union County commissioners Steve McClure, Nellie Hibbert and Mark Davidson. BILL RAUTENSTRAUCH/The Observer
Cody Vavra, Union County’s Mount Emily Recreation Area liaison (left) led the way on a recent tour of the MERA for Union County commissioners Steve McClure, Nellie Hibbert and Mark Davidson. BILL RAUTENSTRAUCH/The Observer
For ATV users from Union County and everywhere else, the Mount Emily Recreation Area is wide-open, ready for action and a blast to ride.

Union County Commissioners Nellie Hibbert, Steve McClure and Mark Davidson got an eye-popping look at the MERA’s ATV trail network recently, as they rode on a long, sometimes bumpy journey across the face of the mountain from Fox Hill Road on the west, all the way to Igo Lane on the east, then back again.

Cody Vavra, who works in the county planning department and serves as MERA liaison, rode a trail bike and led the tour.

He took the commissioners over trails that were cleared, groomed and marked by volunteers this spring and summer.

He even led the governing body up Trail No. 9, the sheer pitch that affords a route from Igo to the top of the mountain.

A precipitous trail it is, and, to borrow a phrase, a powerful rocky one. Still, it wasn’t anything the commissioners couldn’t handle.

Using proper caution, just about anybody can ride it.

“I’d been up it before, and I knew it wasn’t too dangerous,” said Davidson.

Union County bought the 3,600 acres of land for the recreation area thanks in large part to a $4.6 million grant from the Oregon Parks and Recreation Department ATV Program. Though the MERA is open to the public for a wide variety of outdoor recreation, there is an emphasis on ATV use.

Trail work was done by volunteers and by young people employed through the Training and Employment Consortium.

As Vavra pointed out, routes are marked according to the skill level needed to safely negotiate them. In all, there are more than 50 miles of trails available for use by motorcycles, ATVs and Jeeps and trucks.

Union County purchased the MERA last year from timber management company Forest Capital Partners. According to the purchase agreement, Forest Capital sold the land but kept the timber in several of the MERA’s harvest units.

Forest Capital’s harvest began this summer. The ATV tour took commissioners through the Fox unit, where logging was recently completed.

Vavra noted that a good deal of timber was left standing, and evidence of logging isn’t very apparent from the valley down below. Slash piles from the logging operation will be cleaned up later.

“I think they did a good job logging this,” said McClure.

Forest Capital is winding up work on two other MERA units this fall. Four more units will be harvested in 2010 and 2011.

The commissioners’ tour started at the Fox Hill campground and staging area that Forest Capital built for the county this year free of charge.

Across the road from that is a “learner’s loop” for young ATV riders. The loop was built by members of the local ATV club, many of them parents of kids who like to ride.

The tour took the commissioners over winding trails high up into the timber. Often they stopped to enjoy sweeping views of the Grande Ronde Valley.

McClure said he liked what he saw.

“I see how people can get addicted to ATV riding,” he said. “The views from the ridgetops are just incredible.”