Sauvie Island: Water Access and Waltonian Enlightenment All in One Trip

Kayaks, paddles and dog in tow, the map said “that way” to the water! Though not seeking a northwest passage, I was seeking access to the waters near the Columbia River. Sauvie Island, which sits in the Columbia, has a lake nested inside itself, Sturgeon Lake. They say that half the adventure is getting there, and that proved to be the case this trip; the road to the boat launch on Sauvie Island was gated and locked. It was here on that day that I found more than time on the water.

Waltonians plaque for William Finley and Edgar Averill on Oak Island Road, Sauvie Island

Before moving on, my attention was snagged by a boulder on the side of the road. Boulders in the shrubs with plaques on them is on the list of things that make me pull over and investigate.

Who would put a plaque on a rock seemingly out in the middle of “nowhere”? “Ah-ha,” I thought. It’s only “nowhere” if you don’t know the significance! Sauvie Island is a somewhere.

In this natural outdoor setting, the Waltonians of Oregon everlastingly honor their distinguished members William L. Finley, Edgar F. Averill pioneer conservationists who in close fellowship so unselfishly and perseveringly dedicated their efforts to the conservation of Oregon’s wildlife heritage.

Yes, this is the setting that matches the interests, activities and efforts of these individuals. Averill, an Oregonian by birth, and Finley were both advocates for water quality, especially in regard to the Willamette river watershed. Finley was involved in conservation work and writing nationwide, and later on photographed close to 100 species of western birds.

The Waltonians group was named after an English writer and fisherman, or angler, from the 17th century. The league was first started in Chicago, in 1922 with 54 members. By 1940, the league spanned 40 states, had 175,000 members belonging to 3,000 chapters. Oregon reached 1,761 members in 1959. Membership included naturalists, conservationists, anglers, elected officials, people in the medical field, in law, in education, and more. All had conservation goals at heart, and the idea was growing tat being able to experience the outdoors held merit and not just the merits of the resources the environment had to offer.

The Oregon Daily Journal of December 17, 1922 announced the organization of the Izaak Walton League Portland chapter and its celebration banquet. Author and philosopher Henry Van Dyke characterized the purpose of the club with language that echoes many voices of today. He said it, “…is to promote the efficient cooperation, goodwill, common sense and wise law by an appeal to the honest anglers -the men and women who delight the sport of fishing- in all parts of these states. The numbers of this tribe are great and yearly growing. But their influence is nil, unless they can get together in thought and purpose to withstand the inroads of commercial greed and political recklessness by which our once rich inheritance of sport in woods and waters has been reduced to a remnant. Undoubtedly, this impoverishment must be checked or we shall soon have a country in which there will be no hunting except for English sparrows and starlings, and no fishing except for catfish and eels.”

The Columbia River from Sauvie Island looking toward Washington state.

Standing there with the seasonal access gate locked on my left and the plaque set before beautiful open scenery, I was ultimately consoled. Here somebody knew that this was the best place to set commemoration. It would be here, in place like Sauvie Island with all of its waterfowl and wildlife habitat, its fishing and opportunities to just be in the outdoors, that a small monument can have its effect. That effect is a reminder to protect and preserve, to be a visitor that allows nature its space. It is a marker that indirectly says ‘Hey! Look around you at this magnificent place! Isn’t it jaw droppingly incredible and worthy of great protection efforts?’ It didn’t matter so much that this time I was unable to it the water. I was gladdened by the outdoor spirit of others.

Leave no trace. Leave only footprints and take only pictures.

William Finley with white pelicans at Lower Klamath Lake, 1905- image courtesy of Special Collections and Archives Research Center
Oregon State University Libraries and Press

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