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Rowdy River

Chapter VI of Keith McCoy's monthly column

Chapter VI

THE TROUT LAKE VALLEY

The first Euro-American settlers came to the White Salmon Valley in 1853, the same year Washington became a Territory. It would be 20 years before the first permanent white settlers came to Camas Prairie, now known as the Glenwood Valley. And it would be almost 30 years before the Trout Lake Valley had its first settler.

It was not until 1880 that the Peter Stoller family from Switzerland came across the ridges from Camas Prairie, forded the White Salmon River and staked their homestead claim on the shore of Trout Lake. The Indian trail they followed allowed them to bring a small herd of cattle but their farm wagon had to be left behind.

Some who followed by the mid-decade blazed a new trail from Gilmer Valley, up the east side of the White Salmon River through Bear Valley and forded the river at a treacherous place a half mile above the present Weingartner bridge near MP 17.1.

The first families to come -- mainly Swiss and Scandinavian with a sprinkling of Germans and British -- were thrilled with the beauty and potential of the valley. Part lush meadowland, part timberland, it promised to be a rich dairy land if irrigation could be developed.

Mount Adams, towering over the valley, sent its rich flood to them. The challenge was accepted and the decade of the 90s saw the valley laced with irrigation ditches, all dug the hard way.

Another unique feature favored dairying. The valley had numerous lava caves that provided natural refrigeration for their first "cash crop" -- butter. Caves, particularly the community Butter Cave, were gated and made ready for storage of butter until cool weather permitted its transfer to the Columbia River for shipment to markets both up and down the river.

Shortly after the turn of the century the dairymen formed a co-op and started a butter and cheesemaking plant. It assured a local market for their milk. In 1929 this was sold to the Leonard Doherty family and was operated for a decade under their management, then closed.

After this, valley milk went to White Salmon and Hood River creameries, then later to Portland processing and marketing plants.

By the mid-1950s dairying had reached a peak in the valley. More than 50 families were making all or part of their living milking cows. More than 20 full-time dairies were operating. Two tanker trucks came into the valley daily, hauling to Sunnybrook Farms and to Mayflower Farms.

But the economics of the dairy industry were changing rapidly. Survival depended on enlarging herds, genetic improvement of those herds, and investment in the equipment for machine milking and storage.

By the late 1980s only 10 dairies survived. Now there are only three. They "bit the bullet" and play by all the new economic rules including organic farming.

From the very beginning lumbering was an important part of the valley economy. Much of the valley was covered with heavy stands of timber as land was cleared. Primitive sawmills were built to utilize the resource and provide materials for homes and barns.

The Menominee Lumber Company log drives just before and after the turn of the century touched Trout Lake Valley. Some of the eight roll-away dams built to sluice logs down the white Salmon River were in the valley.

The Columbia National Forest was created in 1908 and renamed the Gifford Pinchot in 1949. The Mount Adams Ranger District headquartering in Trout Lake has long been known as one of the largest and busiest in the nation. During Depression years its compound was shared with the CCC and is now shared with the Northwest Service Academy of the AmeriCorps program. When federal timber sales began in the 1930s it boosted valley population and payrolls.

Over the years a number of small sawmills prospered in the valley. For many years, beginning in the 40s, the Hollenbeck Lumber Company provided welcome employment to residents. Then came the time when the economics of the lumber industry dictated that logs should be hauled to railhead processing and the mill was sold and closed in 1965.

Unlike many of the would-be towns in the White Salmon River basin, Trout Lake has maintained its identify as an established village. The town has consistently supported one or more grocery stores, a post office, school, churches, Grange -- and once a highly popular hotel and tavern.

Early day life in Trout Lake Valley, whether on a dairy, in the woods or in a mill, was plain hard work. There wasn't much time to smell the roses. Social life was limited to an occasional dance or event at school, church or the Grange. Some years there was a bit of Fourth of July hoopla or the excitement of the Dairy Fair. But always, time permitting, there was good hunting and fishing nearby.

Trout Lakers learned patience. Some of the modern improvements such as paved roads and readily obtainable electric power came late to the valley.

But, as we shall see in the next chapter, life in the valley was viewed quite differently by the tourists who came to the valley.

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