10 Things About the Row River Trail

Take a trip into the fascinating history of one of Oregon's unique treasures.

story by Michael Mascari
historic photo courtesy of the Cottage Grove Historical Society

No visit to Oregon's Willamette Valley would be complete without a leisurely trip by bike, horse, or foot down the Row River Trail.

Each year more than 150,000 visitors enjoy this scenic 18-mile trek near Eugene, Oregon, which feels like a postcard come to life. The beautiful valley is surrounded by acres of farmland dotted with quaint country homes and historic sights.

But the Row River Trail isn't just a scenic recreation destination. It also has a fascinating story that makes it a unique Oregon treasure.

(1) A Pugnacious Past: Row - which rhymes with "cow" - is named after the Row River. By definition, a "row" is synonymous with a noisy quarrel. And in this particular case, the row in Row River refers to a dispute between two early homesteaders who battled over land rights (resulting in the demise of one of them).

(2) The Golden Railroad: Prospectors flocked to this area in the mid-1800s after hunters discovered the glitter of gold in a quartz rock. Soon the Bohemia Mining District was born. And by the late 19th century, P.J. "Pat" Jennings had generated support for a railroad along today's Row River Trail to carry gold from the mines. Oregon Governor T.T. Geer signified the railroad with the ceremonial spike. While the gold mines soon dried up, the railroad quickly found a new use: to serve the timber boom.

(3) Covering Our Trail: In 1949, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers built several dams in this area to prevent flooding. Additionally, residents and the town of Dorena were moved a few miles east of their former location. As local water levels rose to the dams, the valley was flooded giving today's Row River Trail visitors a stunning view of Dorena Lake. But the waters also covered the former site of the town of Dorena. And during winter months, the remains of the old railroad and town may be visible at the bottom of the lake.

10 Things About the Row River Trail
photo by Michael Mascari

(4) From Gold to Blue: In 1971, the Blue Goose was launched. This tourist train took passengers on day trips through the scenic valley. But after the rail line was sold to local timber company, Willamette Industries, the Blue Goose's picturesque passages were retired.

(5) Swapping Rails for Trails: By the 1980s, Willamette Industries uprooted the old train tracks after switching their shipping operations from trains to trucks. Later they deeded the right-of-way on the land to the BLM in lieu of payment for a timber sale. And thanks to the Railroad and Revitalization Regulatory Reform Act of 1976 - a grant program that created trails where railroads previously operated - one of Eugene's most popular recreation spots was born.

(6) Bridging the Gap: You can start your trip on the Row River Trail from Trailhead Park or the Centennial Bridge, built from the reclaimed timber of historic covered bridges. If you take the full trip, you'll experience the Mosby Creek Bridge (1920), the Currin Bridge (1925), and the Dorena Bridge (1949). Six of the 20 covered bridges in this area - which is the covered bridge capital of the West - are found here.

(7) Hooray for Hollywood: Three major motion pictures were filmed on the trail. Ever seen the movie Stand by Me based on the novel by author Stephen King? Columbia Pictures filmed the train scenes on the present day Row River Trail. And that wasn't even the first movie to be filmed here. Back in 1926, Buster Keaton shot his classic, The General. [see photo to left] And Lee Marvin and Ernest Borgnine starred in the 1973 Emperor of the North Pole. Today, riders can use the trestle bridge immortalized in those movies.

(8) Powering the Community: In addition to supporting the Dorena Lake, the Dorena Dam also provides hydroelectric power for the community. And Row River Trail ties it all together by connecting the power station with the community through a series of transmission lines from a new power station. Dorena Dam will provide 8.1 megawatts to the community - enough juice to power more than 3,600 homes once workers complete the project this summer.

(9) Rewrite the Fight: Though its name was born of battle, the Row River Trail is now jointly managed by partners such as the City of Cottage Grove at the western trailhead and for first three miles of the trail and the BLM's Eugene District for the remainder to include two additional trailheads. Further, Lane County looks after the covered bridges, and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers maintains Dorena Dam.

(10) A Special Designation: In 2012, the State of Oregon designated the Row River Trail to be a Covered Bridges Scenic Bikeway within the system of nine Oregon Scenic Bikeways.

Plan your trip online with directions and a map of the Row River Trail.