LOWELL - Dead brown fir needles fall like snow on a Fall Creek nature trail destroyed in the Clark Fire as Ranger Rick Scott ponders how long it will take until people can safely come back to the popular recreation area.
All the big firs and cedars along a three-mile stretch of Fall Creek Road are dead and waiting to fall. Bedrock Campground is a charred ruin. The streamside trail is obliterated.
Forest officials have just contained the 4,964-acre fire and haven't yet begun to plan for reopening the road or reconstructing campsites and trails. They can't predict when that might happen, or how they'll decide which burned snags pose the greatest immediate hazard.
"You come out here at night, you can hear the snags fall. There's no doubt it's dangerous," says Scott, who works in the Middle Fork District.
"You can see the dilemma we're going to have," he says. "You have to look at each tree and make an individual judgment. We'll have to figure out a way to sort through all that. This is going to be one of our major challenges. How do we get this road back open for the public?"
When the area does open again, fans of Fall Creek's shady camps, scenic trails and cool swimming holes will see a landscape transformed.
While the Clark Fire burned in a mosaic of varying intensity on more than nine square miles of old growth and second growth forest, the most damaging flames ripped through the most public area.
The fire started on the south side of the creek, just four miles upstream from Fall Creek Reservoir on U.S. Forest Service ground that is closest to Eugene-Springfield.
Now, the recreation area will become a classroom of sorts for local residents to track the cycle of forest fire and recovery. The last major fire in the Fall Creek watershed burned 150 to 200 years ago. The one before that burned 400 years ago, Scott says.
In what will be a long lesson, the first chapter will deal with adjusting to a new landscape, devoid of the amenities enjoyed and improved through generations.
At the Johnny Creek Nature Trail, Scott laments the loss of a paved, wheelchair-accessible path with interpretive signs written in Braille for sight-impaired people.