This essay is the last in an occasional series highlighting Phil Decker’s journeys hiking through what he calls the Salem National Forest. Follow all of his adventures on his blog.
The day has finally arrived! I have hiked every inch of the State Street Trail, from its rural roots in the Cascade foothills to the banks of the Willamette River. All 12 miles have been breathtaking, making this one of the most diverse and curious trails in the entire Salem National Forest. This photo essay focuses on the last stretch, the four miles of urban landscape starting at Lancaster Drive and ending at Riverfront Park.
As I headed west from Lancaster, I was greeted by a poignant challenge on a door with no handle outside of Bob’s Adult Books.
Hmmmm … What was I doing walking alone on this remote trail early on a Sunday morning, searching for inspiration and nature’s beauty?
Despite these existential musings, I soon felt quite welcome as I crossed the official line that marks the transition from Marion County into the City of Salem. However, come to think of it, neither the mayor nor even a Visitor Center rep was there to greet me.
Yet the pristine landscapes did.
As I marched by the Oregon National Guard headquarters, a sense of calm came over me. In the midst of such uncertain times — plagued by ISIS, wildlife refuge occupiers, racial strife, Zika virus, primary election debates and global warming — I felt remarkably safe.
That’s because the trail is under surveillance 24/7, assuring that nothing bad could happen to me. Satellite receivers stood alert in the distance …
tall steel fences lined the path …
and armed patrols were always poised to strike.
Thankfully the trail keepers try to balance security with natural signage, reminding hikers of the serenity they can find here — like this sunny outdoor scene …
this well-protected natural area …
and this wildlife marker keeping an eye on the trail below.
Obviously, this was not your typical wilderness trail. I sometimes found the heightened level of security a bit Extreme.
However, I was happy to discover the trail offers “full service” for hikers, balancing powerful control with generous support services.
How many trails still sport a pay phone, with collect call capability, just in case your cell has no charge, signal or minutes?
How many trails go the extra mile by offering self-defense lessons along the way?
If you decide to hike the State Street Trail, keep in mind that regardless of the invaluable precautions, there’s still no guarantee that you won’t stumble along the way.
Nevertheless, just hike on! The risk is worth it, as you savor the view of Mill Creek from a pedestrian bridge with sturdy guardrails …
and bask in the beauty of the Star Trees of Willamette University, nearing their 75th birthday, the tallest giant Sequoias on any university campus in America.
During my hike, I occasionally ran into locals. I greeted them and tried to strike up a conversation, but I found folks to be quite stiff …
a bit cold and hard to look straight in the eyes …
or rather distant.
When I reached the Salem Riverfront Carousel near the end of the State Street Trail, I just happened to run into none other than Sarah Evans, the editor of Salem Is. What a coincidence!
Sarah was with her lovely family, checking out the new pirate horse, Patch.
I had a flashback to an image I created 12 miles + 1.5 years ago, at the beginning of the State Street Trail. What goes around comes around.
I joined Sarah and her family on the Carousel and took this picture of her enjoying her last lap.
After several revolutions, I headed toward to the Willamette River … oh, wait, what was this? Live entertainment to end my stroll?
As I was saying, I walked toward the river, and when I reached the pier, I finally glimpsed some real wildlife. It seemed a fitting end to a relaxing hike.
I watched the ducks and geese mingle on the water, and I reflected on how Sarah’s work with Salem Is has contributed to illuminating hidden treasures in our community. She has offered so many local writers and photographers opportunities to share their ideas and creativity. I also was impressed with how Sarah’s husband invested in a Carousel ride punch card.
My original existential puzzle now seemed easily solved. Right here, deep within the Salem National Forest, we all “GOT A liFE!” It’s simply a matter of appreciating it and enjoying it. Together we can make life in Salem an even better place for ourselves, for our families and for our neighbors.
Documentary photographer Phil Decker studied at the International Center of Photography and is a founding member of the Salem Photo League. You can see more of his photos on his blog, “Hiking Salem National Forest,” or on his website. Phil is wise to keep his day job as an elementary school principal.