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Camping on Willamette River islands in Eugene could soon be illegal, again

Department of State Lands

Overnight camping on the islands of the Willamette River in Eugene could soon be illegal....again. The State Land Board will vote on whether to initiate a rule-making process that would ban the practice on about a dozen islands during its meeting in Salem on Tuesday.

For years, the city of Eugene enforced a camping ban on the islands, in the same way that it restricts camping on city-owned property on the river's banks.

But last year, someone made a discovery: Those islands aren’t actually part of the city of Eugene.

That’s because they were formed after statehood, through the natural buildup of riverbed materials. The scientific term for that is accretion, and under state law, that makes the islands state property.

And on state property, you can camp up to 30 days in a row unless there are specific rules stating otherwise.

Department of State Lands officials say garbage build-up and human waste on the islands are threatening wildlife habitat and water quality. The agency says in the 18-month period prior to the discover of their true ownership, city employees cleaned up 44 camps on the islands.

Credit Department of State Lands
City crews frequently found campsites on the islands.

The department is expected to ban camping in the short term using an emergency declaration, which would last up to a year. That would be followed by a long-term rulemaking process, which would involve public input. The proposed rule would then go back to the State Land Board for final approval.

The three members of the State Land Board are Gov. Kate Brown, Treasurer Tobias Read, and Secretary of State Bev Clarno. The meeting will be the first for Clarno, who was appointed Secretary of State in late March.

According to a draft version of the rules, the islands would be off limits to the public between 10 p.m. and 5 a.m. each day. Campsites and fires would not be allowed at any time.

Similar restrictions are in place on other state-owned islands in the Willamette near Salem, and on the Sandy River east of Portland.

Chris Lehman has been reporting on Oregon issues since 2006. He joined the KLCC news department in December 2018 and became News Director in March 2023. Chris was born and raised in Pennsylvania, and graduated from Temple University with a degree in journalism. His public broadcasting career includes stops in Louisiana and Illinois. Chris has filed for national programs including “Morning Edition” and “All Things Considered.”