Mission Profile The End Of The Trail

RotorDrone|July/ August 2019

Mission Profile The End Of The Trail

Can a drone and an attorney prove that a walking trail will harm agricultural production?

PILOT REPORT: This mission brought me to farm country in the heart of Oregon’s Willamette Valley. Owing to a series of massive floods at the end of the last ice age, which laid down alluvial soil across the Valley’s entire 150-mile length, this is some of the most fertile land on Earth. It is the “Paradise at the End of the Oregon Trail” that prompted a westward migration across North America beginning in the 1830s, exceeding the scale of the California Gold Rush by more than a third.

For a group of modern farmers in Yamhill County, there is a very real danger that it could become a “Paradise Lost.” The county government had purchased an easement for a rail line running right through the middle of their fields. The tracks had been torn up decades ago, and to my untrained eye, it looked like a drainage ditch. The county’s plan was to convert it into a trail for tourists to bicycle and walk through the countryside.

“Everyone loves trails—that is unless it cuts through the heart of commercial farms, significantly interfering with necessary farm practices,” said Wendie Kellington, the attorney who hired me to document the abandoned right-of-way, showing it in the context of the surrounding farmland. One of the farmers was even more direct, saying, “We’re going up against the spandex mafia.”


Like any commercial drone operation, this mission began not with the whir of propellers but the rustling of papers and tapping on a computer keyboard. Consulting a current sectional chart for the area, I found it is located in Class G airspace—not a huge surprise, given its rural character. I did notice, however, that the nearby countryside is dotted with small private airstrips and a couple of larger fields with fixed-base operators, where I could expect to see a greater density of crewed air traffic.

I focused primarily on Chehalem Airpark (17S), with a single, 2,285-foot asphalt runway aligned almost directly east-west. My area of operation was going to be 6.5 miles due west of the airport. At that distance from the field, any arriving or departing traffic should be well above my 400-foot ceiling, but it nevertheless deserved my attention. Before heading out to the site, I charged up my handheld aviation radio and tuned it to 122.9MHz, the Chehalem Common Traffic Advisory Frequency (CTAF).


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July/ August 2019