The Row River Nature Park (previously known as East Regional Park) lies on the east side of Cottage Grove. We began walking our dogs here when we first moved to the area 14 years ago. Since it is an easy-to-access, in-town walking trail, we bring our dogs here a lot, especially in the winter.
The Park consists of 56 acres, most of it naturalized. The ponds themselves were created when gravel was extracted here in the 1960s for the building of Interstate 5. Roughly a decade later, in the mid-1970s, the City of Cottage Grove acquired the property. In the mid-2000s the US Army Corp of Engineers identified the area as a high priority for restoration. Because of these restoration efforts, in 2010, the park name changed to Row River Nature Park, in an effort to signify both its location and its purpose.
In 1999, when we first began walking at “the ponds” it felt like an area only long-time locals knew about; much of the paved path was lined with blackberries, the unpaved paths were narrow and poorly maintained, ivy dominated the undergrowth in some areas, and the ponds felt neglected with some full of an invasive yellow iris. A highlight of our walks would be the sighting of a Western Pond Turtle. At the time, of the seven or so ponds which were visible, we would see turtles in only one of them, and it was a rare treat.Over the past decade we have watched as much of the blackberries, ivy, and non-native trees have been removed. The ponds have been cleared of invasive plants (like the yellow iris), native trees and shrubs have been planted, and basking logs have been put in place for the turtles. Additional ponds and other waterways have shown themselves as the underbrush was cleared. During the warmer months, the turtles are now almost always visible in several of the ponds (and, curiously, we now rarely see them in the ‘original’ turtle pond).
While there are gravel/dirt parking lots within the park, many people park at the weigh station off Row River Road. Personally, we prefer parking on Davidson Avenue and taking the paved trail in off the street as it makes for a nice loop trail through the park (see map below). Consisting of both paved and unpaved paths this loop is probably just under 2.5 miles long, taking you past the Row River and many of the turtle ponds. The Davidson Avenue entrance is also, perhaps, the best access point for people using assistive devices.
Besides the nature trails and ponds, the park also includes one pond which is occasionally stocked for fishing, a BMX track, and the City’s water intake and filtration facility.
Getting there is simple. From the I-5 exit #174 head east on Row River Road
- Choice 1) in approximately half a mile turn left on Davidson Avenue. Drive one block until the road turns left and park on the road. Note the “Bike Path” sign; this is the start of the trail.
- Choice 2) in approximately one mile, swing left into the weigh station and park at the side of the road, or turn left into the gravel parking lot (there are many access points, the last at the BMX track).