About 10 minutes into the movie “Leave No Trace,” David Bugni began to feel he was in familiar territory. The 2018 film follows a veteran father who lives with his daughter in a forested public park near Portland. The woods where the movie is set were so familiar to Bugni … weren’t they part of Clackamas County’s beautiful Eagle Fern Park, not far from his home near Estacada?
A few minutes later, his suspicions were confirmed: the camera caught the corner of an interpretive sign, one of a dozen or so that marks a nature trail in the Clackamas County park. Bugni, a retired structural engineer and a long-time advocate and volunteer for the park, knew the signs quite well: he had designed them.
About a year before his movie theater revelation, Bugni learned that three large, forested parcels just outside Eagle Fern Park were up for sale. One parcel abutted Bugni’s property, so he looked into purchasing it. But the owner, the Weyerhaeuser company, wasn’t interested in selling just one parcel; it was looking for a buyer for all three. So Bugni began a quest to find that buyer.
Luckily, he found one in the Clackamas Soil and Water Conservation District, which helps conserve natural resources on public as well as private lands. According to District General Manager Tom Salzer, purchasing the three parcels, which total 319 acres, meets the organization’s mission of helping people use natural resources sustainably. Working with Bugni and the Trust for Public Land, the District sought a grant from the U.S. Forest Service’s Community Forest Program to help cover the cost. Last October, the team learned they had won the grant, one of only a handful of such donations given nationwide last year.
Salzer and Bugni shared the good news at the Clackamas County Democrats’ January Central Committee meeting. They described how the land purchase, expected to be completed shortly, will add to the existing Eagle Fern Park and two other pieces of contiguous, forested land, owned by the Bureau of Land Management and Portland General Electric. The result will be a 1400-acre natural area known as Eagle Creek Community Forest. Both the BLM and PGE have agreed to the importance of the forest and will be part of an Advisory Committee, along with the District, Bugni, and other local and state groups. The committee will collaborate to ensure the forest’s sustainable management and protection.
As the producers of “Leave No Trace” discovered, Eagle Fern Park is an idyllic setting, with its old-growth forest of huge cedars and Doug fir and four miles of hiking trails flanking both sides of Eagle Creek, vital to migrating salmon and steelhead. Bear and Suter Creeks and the North Fork of Eagle Creek flow through the newly created community forest, providing additional salmon habitat. Also envisioned are miles of new hiking trails, kayaking, fishing, and camping.
When he first began his efforts to conserve the largest area of ancient forest so close to Portland, Bugni was probably most motivated by the promise of wildlife conservation, he says. Elk, bobcat, fox, cougar are all found in the forest, and he foresees restored riparian habitat that will lead to returns of thriving populations of coho salmon and steelhead.
Bugni reflects on all that’s happened since he first looked into purchasing just a relatively small piece of forest near his family’s home. He points to the strong support for establishing Eagle Creek Community Forest received from the local community and from Clackamas County and national groups and adds, “It’s especially rewarding when you have kids and can think about how they and their kids will be able to enjoy the forest.”
Now that’s a Hollywood ending.