TOLLGATE, Ore. — Recent flooding in northeast Oregon has affected more than just homes and people.
Livestock owners are also feeling the devastation after floodwaters washed away barns and pastures along the Umatilla and South Fork Walla Walla rivers, causing millions of dollars worth of estimated damage in communities throughout the area.
Members of a local off-road club are now working to deliver tons of hay donated by Northwest farmers and ranchers to keep the animals from starving in the immediate aftermath of the floods. The first 20 bales were delivered Feb. 13, and more arrived over the weekend.
“Our goal was getting the hungry animals fed,” said Emmitt Quintal, one of the founders of the Tollgate Off-road and Recovery Club. “We have hay on the ground now, and we have more hay coming.”
Quintal, who lives on Tollgate Mountain about 40 miles north of Pendleton, Ore., started the club on Feb. 1 with friends Colton McGee and Teren Manning to promote off-road recreation and assist with rescue efforts in the steep and rugged terrain.
By Feb. 6, the worst of the floods had arrived, as heavy snow in the Blue Mountains was followed by days of rain and warmer weather, sending a surge of water into the rivers.
Quintal said the club responded immediately, traversing waterlogged roadways to reach stranded homes and communities up the South Fork Walla Walla River from Milton-Freewater, Ore., to Harris Park.
“We were getting requests for everything from giving them a ride, dropping off donations or picking up donations,” Quintal said.
They also knew livestock had not been fed in several of the locations they visited, prompting the call for hay to feed the animals.
Valerie O’Dai, who lives in Elgin, Ore., and serves as a disaster relief coordinator for the nonprofit Emergency Equipment Solutions, connected with the club over social media and took on coordinating hay donations, storage and delivery.
Donations have included 22.5 tons from Burns, Ore., rancher Steve Doverspike, as well as multiple commitments from Hermiston businesses. Three Umatilla County farms have also volunteered their operations to drop off and store hay until it is ready to be delivered — Kyle Snow of Snow Farms in Echo; David Dunn, a ranch hand in Rieth; and Tygh Campbell of Campbell Livestock in Athena.
“When disaster strikes anywhere in Eastern Oregon, people come out of the woodwork to help,” O’Dai said. “We are small-town people. We are close-knit communities.”
Volunteers and members of the off-road club worked into the night Feb. 13 making the first deliveries to 25 ranches along the Umatilla and South Fork Walla Walla rivers, O’Dai said. She was confident they would receive another 50 tons of hay through the weekend.
“We are still looking for donors,” O’Dai said. “We’re still looking for more people who are willing to help in any step of the line.”
McGee, one of the three co-founders of the Tollgate Off-road and Recovery Club, said he has been amazed by the level of community support. He said the group has worked extremely well together, and used social media to its advantage putting together the relief and recovery efforts.
“It’s been very rewarding,” McGee said. “The community really seems to be coming to us to deliver things.”
Anyone interested in donating or volunteering can contact O’Dai at 541-663-6050, or visit the Tollgate Off-road and Recovery Club Facebook page.