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PHOTO BY LEE JUILLERAT

Viewpoints along the half-mile paved Wood River Wetlands Trail trail offers views of Agency Lake and the Cascades.

See and Savor: The Wood River Wetlands

Some places are temptations for all seasons.

Consider the Wood River Wetland, a 3,200-acre area along the eastern shore of Agency Lake north of Klamath Falls. A recent 8-mile loop hike around the wetland was a visual delight, especially as layers of clouds blanketing Cascade peaks oh-so gradually peeled away. The last peak to fully appear was Mount Scott and, like the others — Aspen Butte, Pelican Butte, Devil’s Peak, Goosenest and more — its upper reaches were snow-covered.

The walk and the views were delicious, but it’s easy to imagine making the loop, probably with some add-ons, on cross-country skis. Or pedaling a mountain bike. Or with higher water, paddling a kayak or canoe.

Depending on the season, the wetland offers much to see and savor. As an interpretative sign notes of the current season, “Winter isn’t for Sissies.” But even in the chill of winter, our small group saw hawks, gulls, mergansers, a peek-a-boo otter and, even better, ponds mirrored and illuminated by bluebird sky reflections of those snow-capped mountains.

This is the quiet season. Other times of the year birders flock to the wetland for its variety of waterfowl, raptors, shorebirds and migratory songbirds. The wetland lacks the incredible volumes of birds seen at the Tule Lake and Lower Klamath refuges, but it’s more diverse. Refuge brochures list American bitterns, wood ducks, Caspian and black terns, Bonaparte’s gulls, yellow-headed and tri-colored blackbirds, several warbler species, Bullock’s orioles, great and snowy egrets, yellow rails, canvasbacks, bufflehead, lesser scaups, wood ducks, northern harriers, ruddy ducks, American avocets, Wilson’s phalaropes, sandhill cranes, cinnamon teal, mallards, ospreys, western and Clark’s grebes, American white pelicans, bald eagles, peregrine falcons and a Sibley’s Guide of others.

Although the lack of precipitation has left several ponds dry or at low levels, they remain surrounded and curtained by bulrush, cattail and a variety of sedges and grasses. Intriguing, too, were bright red berries that looked like tiny cherry tomatoes.

The first half-mile from the gated parking area is paved and wheelchair accessible to a bridge. There are viewing benches, interpretative signs and, near the parking area and across the bridge, restrooms.

Beyond the bridge, gravel and dirt roads bisect the wetland. We followed the road along the wetland’s south boundary to the Sevenmile Creek watershed, where we headed northwest, then aimed northeast to a junction that eventually angled southeast alongside the Wood River back to the half-mile bridge. All the while the route parallels a series of those illuminating wetland ponds. We also saw a motorboat with waterfowl hunters on Agency Lake, savored dazzling mountain views, and saw a kayaker testing the canal waters near the parking area.

The wetland has a history. In September 1992, Congress provided funding for the Bureau of Land Management to purchase 3,200 acres of natural wetland along the north end of Agency Lake at the mouth of the Wood River. The wetland area had been converted to pasture land in the 1950s and '60s. The land purchase was completed in 1994.

Since then, BLM has restored the wetland area and adjacent Wood River channel to a more natural state. The channel restoration project, which was completed in 2001, meanders through the marsh. Water is manipulated to enhance the habitat for wetland plants and processes and to improve water quality for fish and wildlife. Overall, BLM officials say the project has improved water quality and created better habitat for fish, birds and wildlife.

The Wood River emerges from a large natural spring in Jackson F. Kimball State Recreation Site. It's believed the aquifer that feeds the spring begins 20 miles northwest in the east side drainage of Crater Lake National Park. The Wood River meanders 15 miles through pine forest, and 18 miles through agricultural land before flowing into Agency Lake.

Fish from the Wood and its tributaries include brook, brown and Great Basin redband and coastal rainbow trout. The waterway also provides habitat for beaver, river otter and muskrats and such nonaquatic animals as raccoons, gray squirrels, martens, mink, red fox, gray fox, mule deer, bobcats and black bears.

Traveling its roads by mountain bike is tempting. Even more alluring is paddling by kayak — from the parking area it’s a half-mile to the Wood, where the choices include venturing upstream or downstream to Agency Lake. But this is winter, the season to — hope, hope — break out the cross-country skis.

‘Tis the season, so let it snow.

Reach freelance writer Lee Juillerat at 337lee337@charter.net or 541-880-4139.

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IF YOU GO

The Wood River Wetland, 39278 Modoc Point Road, Chiloquin, is about 30 miles north of Klamath Falls and about 82 miles from Medford.

To get there from Medford, Take Highway 140 East and Volcanic Legacy Scenic Byway to Chiloquin Highway in Klamath County. Then take Modoc Point Road to the trailhead.

From Klamath Falls, take Highway 97 north 14 miles to the Modoc Point Road, then continue north 12 miles to the signed entrance. The area is open year-round for day use only. Facilities include a paved parking area, half-mile handicapped accessible trail, kayak-canoe launch, interpretative signs, picnic areas and toilets. There is no drinking water. Pets must be controlled on a leash. Trails and roads are open to non-motorized travel only. To learn more contact the Bureau of Land Management’s Klamath Falls office at 541-883-6916 or visit the website at www.blm.gov/or/districts/lakeview/.

The Wood River Wetland is open daily two hours before sunrise and a half hour after sunset for waterfowl hunters. No pit blinds or permanent structures are allowed, and no decoys or other equipment can be left unattended.

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