SALEM — As Claire Wallace finished the last of her ice cream, the 7-year-old took a moment to explain her method of communicating with birds on bicycle rides through Champoeg State Heritage Area.
“I always see lots of little birds in the sky and what I did was try ringing my bell to see if they understood,” she said. “They did chirp back a little bit so ... maybe?”
Claire made the observation while sitting in the historic Butteville Store alongside her father Austin, at the resting point of their 6-mile bicycle trip. They’d started at the Champoeg Visitor’s Center and rode three miles to Butteville for refreshments and relaxation before heading back.
“We really look forward to coming here on days off,” said Austin, who said the family lives in Mulino. “The trail is great for Claire and it’s such a beautiful, historic place. Getting a little reward here at the store makes it that much better.”
Champoeg has always billed itself as a place that offers a combination of history and recreation. The site where Oregon’s first provisional government was formed in 1843 has become a popular spot for camping, disc golf and fishing.
But the bike path might be the best way to experience all the charms of this Willamette Valley destination, especially for kids.
“Most children of biking age can handle the ride —it’s a nice length and not too difficult,” said Corinne Flake, volunteer coordinator with the nonprofit Friends of Historic Champoeg. “It’s definitely something people can do as a family.”
The best way to get started is with a map from the Visitor’s Center.
There are multiple starting points that offer a combination of lengths.
From the Riverside Day Use Area, it’s four miles to Butteville Store (and eight miles round-trip). Start at the Visitor’s Center — like Claire and Austin — and it’s six miles round-trip. The route is easy to ollow.
“The great thing about following the paved bicycle trail is that you pass all the great stops along the way,” said Daniel Klug, Interpretive Park Ranger at Champoeg.”
The first of those stops ‹ if you begin at Riverside ‹ is the Pioneer Memorial Building and Monument, the site of the historic first vote, along with the former townsite.
The town of Champoeg had a population of 200 before it was destroyed by flood in 1891, but a few buildings have been reconstructed, and for an extra fee, you can explore a cabin, school and jailhouse typical of the town’s 19th Century heyday.
The trail enters a deep and peaceful forest beyond the campground, winding above the Willamette River.
Many of Claire’s feathered friends call this area home, including the population of western bluebirds.
“One of the things I really appreciate about the park, and the trail, is how well it’s laid out,” Austin Wallace said. “Even when it gets busy in the summer, the layout is spaced so the trail feels very peaceful. It never feels crammed.”
The only challenging part of the ride comes about a mile before Butteville. There’s a climb up a hill and a decent back down, before reaching Butteville Road, swinging left (stay on the shoulder) and arriving at the store open 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. from Memorial Day through late September.
The store, established in 1863 and Oregon’s oldest such business, makes the perfect turn around spot on a day spent with one wheel in the past and one in the present.
The old-time artifacts — a wooden phone from that days of Alexander Graham Bell and ancient farming equipment — mixes with the decidedly modern touch of a cafe that serves cinnamon rolls, pies and even craft beer.
“Our bicycle customers are always in such a good mood when they get here — excited about getting ice cream or sandwiches,” said Madison Ochs, who works at the Butteville Store. “They’re always talking about how pretty the trail is and you can really tell how much they appreciate what the park has to offer.”