As Claire Wallace finished the last of her ice cream, the 7-year-old took a moment to explain her method of communicating with birds on bicycle rides through Champoeg State Heritage Area.
"I always see lots of little birds in the sky, and what I did was try ringing my bell to see if they understood," she said. "They did chirp back a little bit so ... maybe?"
What: Champoeg State Heritage Area bicycle path
General area: Thirty miles north of Salem, just south of Wilsonville
Length: Four miles one-way from Riverside Day Use Area to Butteville Store
Difficulty: Mostly easy, with a few hills in the final mile
Highlights: Historic sites, Willamette River views, riparian forest, wildlife, birds, bridges, refreshments at Butteville Store
Map: You can pick up a detailed map at Champoeg Visitor's Center.
Butteville Store: Open 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. from Memorial Day Weekend until late September.
Information: Champoeg State Heritage Area, 503-678-1251; Friends of Historic Champoeg, 503-678-1649
Directions: From Salem, follow Interstate 5 north to exit 278 and follow signs about six miles to the park.
Sunday rides: Champoeg park rangers occasionally will offer guided and interpretative bicycle rides on Sunday, running from the visitor's center to Butteville Store. Call interpretative ranger Daniel Klug for information at 503-678-1251
Butteville Store nights: Every other Saturday, the Butteville Store stays open late and offers a home-cooked meal and live music, typically folk or bluegrass. Call in advance for tickets at 503-678-1649.
Claire made the observation while sitting in the historic Butteville Store alongside her father, Austin, at the resting point of their six-mile bicycle trip. They'd started at the Champoeg Visitor's Center and rode three miles to Butteville for refreshments and relaxation before heading back.
"We really look forward to coming here on days off," said Austin, who said the family lives in Mulino. "The trail is great for Claire, and it's such a beautiful, historic place. Getting a little reward here at the store makes it that much better."
Champoeg has always billed itself as a place that offers a combination of history and recreation. The site where Oregon's first provisional government was formed in 1843 has become a popular spot for camping, disc golf and fishing.
But the bike path might be the best way to experience all the charms of this Willamette Valley destination, especially for kids.
"Most children of biking age can handle the ride — it's a nice length and not too difficult," said Corinne Flake, volunteer coordinator with the nonprofit Friends of Historic Champoeg. "It's definitely something people can do as a family."
The best way to get started is with a map from the visitor's center.
There are multiple starting points that offer a combination of lengths.
From the Riverside Day Use Area, it's four miles to Butteville Store (and eight miles round-trip). Start at the visitor's center — like Claire and Austin — and it's six miles round-trip. The route is easy to follow.
"The great thing about following the paved bicycle trail is that you pass all the great stops along the way," said Daniel Klug, Interpretive Park Ranger at Champoeg.
The first of those stops — if you begin at Riverside — is the Pioneer Memorial Building and Monument, the site of the historic first vote, along with the former townsite.
The town of Champoeg had a population of 200 before it was destroyed by flood in 1891, but a few buildings have been reconstructed, and for an extra fee you can explore a cabin, school and jailhouse typical of the town's 19th-century heyday.
The trail enters a deep and peaceful forest beyond the campground, winding above the Willamette River. Many of Claire's feathered friends call this area home, including a population of western bluebirds.
"One of the things I really appreciate about the park, and the trail, is how well it's laid out," Austin Wallace said. "Even when it gets busy in the summer, the layout is spaced so the trail feels very peaceful. It never feels crammed."
The only challenging part of the ride comes about a mile before Butteville. There's a climb up a hill and a decent drop before reaching Butteville Road, swinging left (stay on the shoulder) and arriving at the store, which is open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. from Memorial Day through late September.
The store, established in 1863 and Oregon's oldest such business, makes the perfect turnaround spot on a day spent with one wheel in the past and one in the present. The old-time artifacts — ancient farming equipment and a wooden phone from the days of Alexander Graham Bell — mixes with the decidedly modern touch of a cafe that serves cinnamon rolls, pies and even craft beer.
"Our bicycle customers are always in such a good mood when they get here — excited about getting ice cream or sandwiches," said Madison Ochs, who works at the Butteville Store. "They're always talking about how pretty the trail is, and you can really tell how much they appreciate what the park has to offer."
Outdoors writer Zach Urness blogs at statesmanjournal.com/outdoors. He can be reached at zurness@StatesmanJournal.com or 503-399-6801.