Sumpter Valley Dredge
The beauty of travel is the unexpected treasure you will often find along the way. The treasures can measured in memories in the varied sights and sounds that link you to the people and the landscape and the history of the place. This week, we travel to remote Sumpter, Oregon for a golden opportunity to learn about a unique chapter in the state’s not so distant past at the Sumpter Valley Dredge State Heritage Area in Sumpter, Oregon.
Northeast Oregon’s Powder River is a small cool, quiet and refreshing stream, but not so long ago, it was a river under siege. It’s a landscape where monstrous gold-dredging machines ravaged the river valley floor. Square-bowed and built of steel and wood and iron, three giant dredges lifted and sifted the terrain, reaping a golden harvest worth $12 million during the peak of the depression era.
Today, it is a park that holds on to history and takes visitors aboard to see and touch the past at the Sumpter Valley Dredge State Heritage Area in Sumpter, Oregon. I hope you will be as awestruck as I when you come face to face with the Sumpter dredge, whose massive boom bears seventy-two 1-ton buckets.
Water and sluices separated the gold from the sediment and the spoils from this process were discharged behind the behemoth as it moved across the valley. Nine tons of gold in nineteen years!
The Sumpter Dredge ravaged the Powder River Valley for miles around and all these decades later, the tailings undulate like snakes across the valley. They are lasting reminders of a bygone era for sure, yet time has a way of healing the land: trees and other vegetation are slowly coming back along the river.
Ranger Rella Browne added that it remains an important Oregon story that she enjoys sharing with park visitors.
“The telling of Oregon history is an important mission for Oregon State Parks. By virtue of the dredge’s presence in the valley, many visitors ask those questions and then you can teach them about that time. It really does provide the opportunity to share that chapter of Oregon’s past – and it’s really fun – it’s really fun.”
Editor’s Note: Grant’s Getaways is a production of Travel Oregon brought to you in association with Oregon State Parks, Oregon Dept. of Fish & Wildlife and Oregon State Marine Board. Episodes air Thursdays and Saturdays on KGW Newschannel 8 and Saturdays on Northwest Cable News Network.
About the Author: Grant McOmie
Grant McOmie is a Pacific Northwest broadcast journalist, teacher and author who writes and produces stories and special programs about the people, places, outdoor activities and environmental issues of the Pacific Northwest. A fifth generation Oregon native, Grant’s roots run deepest in the central Oregon region near Prineville and Redmond where his family continues to live.