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For 44 years, model planes have dotted the sky above a field off the Columbia River Highway, south of Goble, Oregon. But now, the Cowlitz Valley R/C Flyers are grounded.

The 20-member club rented a 10-acre field from the Columbia Land Trust until it was told in August to vacate by the end of September. The field is part of a larger parcel of land, set to be used for a deer conservation project.

Jerry Dow, club treasurer, said the flyers are searching for a new field to rent.

“If you don’t have a flying field, it’s almost impossible to have a club,” Dow said.

The Cowlitz Valley R/C Flyers is a local branch of the Academy of Model Aeronautics. Dow said the club got its charter in 1971. He joined in 1974, around the time the club began renting the field.

The flyers rented the field from the Jones family until 2012 when it was bought by the Bonneville Power Administration for the Columbia Land Trust. The 10-acre field was part of the 41-acre Tide Creek Land Acquisition, now part of the 920-acre Columbia Stock Ranch, also bought by BPA and managed by the trust.

Dow said the club continued to rent the field from the trust. Future use of the field first became uncertain in 2016 when the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers planned to construct an ecosystem restoration project at the stock ranch, funded by the BPA.

The project involved modifying a portion of the Columbia River Levee to allow regular flooding by the river and creating a wetland. Many neighboring landowners who would also be impacted by the flooding voiced concerns about the project. In May 2017, the Corps and BPA decided not to continue with the project.

The flyers met with the Columbia Land Trust in August to discuss continued use of the field but were told that wasn’t an option.

On Aug. 23, the BPA proposed funding a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service effort to relocate up to 50 Columbian white-tailed deer to the Columbia Stock Ranch. The project would move the deer from Tenasillahe Island in the Julia Butler Hansen Refuge for The Columbian White-Tailed Deer just west of Cathlamet.

The project is still in the review stage. Public comment was gathered from Aug. 23 to Sept. 24. The BPA is expected to release an environmental assessment of the project this fall, which is also subject to comment. If the project is approved, moving the deer will begin in December.

Dow said he and other club members left online comments about the project, wrote a letter to the project manager and left a voicemail message asking about continued use of the field with no response. He said they would like to hear back, but are now focused on moving forward.

The club doesn’t need much space for a flying field, as long as it’s relatively flat and open, Dow said. The flyers are willing to pay a landowner rent and have paid about $25,000 in rent over the past 44 years.

“We aren’t looking for a free ride,” Dow said.

Model aircraft don’t usually bother animals, Lincoln Rice, club secretary, said. So using an area with grazing cattle wouldn’t be a problem.

Dow said the club is hoping to find somewhere to fly where it can restrict access because of safety and liability concerns, rather than flying on public land.

“The club wants to offer the public a place to fly these things that’s safe and legal,” Rice said. “Without a flying field, we can’t do that.”

The flyers have been involved in a variety of community events and activities, including Extreme Machines and Longview Parks and Recreation’s Outdoor Family Adventure. Club members have also held flight demonstrations at local schools. Rice said they need a field to continue the club and the community participation that goes along with it.

“Working with schools and other organizations is what we really like to do,” Rice said.

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