Portland and the surrounding cities do a great job providing urban access to nature. There are greenway paths between developments, wetland trails linking parks, more than 30 city “natural areas”, and more than a dozen Metro nature parks. Many of these sites were created by protecting undeveloped spaces, but there have also been many projects to reclaim areas that had been previously impacted by industrial activities. I recently visited two of them: Whitaker Ponds, and Smith and Bybee Wetlands Natural Area.
Whitaker Ponds is a mile away from the Columbia River, with the airport in between. It is adjacent to the Whitaker Slough, which connects to the 19 mile long Columbia River Slough. Part of the area had been a dump, and they say over 2000 tires were removed to create the park. A trail runs between the ponds and the slough, surrounded by cottonwoods and shrubs, passing through a variety of environments supporting many different creatures,
We’ve visited Smith and Bybee Wetlands Natural Area several times in the past few years to walk the nature trail. At 2000 acres, it is one of the largest protected wetlands within city limits in the country. Near the confluence of the Willamette and Columbia Rivers, it is surrounded by warehouses and port terminals. There are two seasonal lakes, a riparian forest, sedge meadows, and a landfill that has been converted to a grasslands habitat. The Interlakes Trail has two viewing shelters, which on this visit were pretty distant from most of the waterfowl action. I heard a bald eagle, and saw an empty nest, but didn’t see one perched or flying in the Natural Area. But I did see a bald eagle at close range on the drive from Whitaker, flying at stoplight height through a nearby intersection.
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