Tuesday, December 09, 2014

Columbia Slough Natural Area

Our next adventure takes us back to the Columbia Slough again, but this time to a spot much further east. Portland's Columbia Slough Natural Area is a fairly new city park, located along Airport Way in a light industrial area about 3 miles east of I-205 and the airport.

This area was previously called the "Big Four Corners Natural Area", but the name was apparently changed quite recently, within in the last couple of years, such that a number of signs around the park still use the old name. In some ways the former name was better, in that it referred to this specific location and not the slough in general. But it also sounds like somewhere that desperadoes would rob a stagecoach, probably by heading it off at the pass, whatever that means.

This section of the slough is complex of ponds and intersecting channels, hence the "Big Four Corners" name. (There's also a "Little Four Corners" further west, just east of I-205, next to the Inverness Jail. I haven't been there.) The channel complex forms the largest (extant) wetland area along the slough other than Smith & Bybee Lakes in North Portland, and provides important habitat for birds (note the heron flying in the first photo), native turtles, salamanders and other wildlife. Some of the ponds here are particularly important as habitat for baby turtles, as they aren't directly connected to the slough, and not exposed to invasive carp. It seems that carp stir up sediment and eat the same aquatic plants that turtles rely on, and bodies of water without carp are quite rare, so protecting these ponds has become a priority.

The park also has a variety of recreational features, including a dock for launching canoes and kayaks. This dock is a popular launch point for the annual Columbia Slough Regatta, which is not a race, but a boating event aimed at raising awareness about the slough. The regatta celebrated its 20th edition in 2014.

The park also has a few trails. A segment of the Columbia Slough Trail (which doesn't yet link to its western counterpart) follows the north shore of one of the slough channels. This channel heads north to a pump station where the slough once connected to the Columbia River, and the trail connects to the east end of the Marine Drive Trail at that point. The park also includes a Columbia Slough South Shore Trail somewhere around here, but I couldn't find it and I'm not sure where it goes.

South of Airport Way is a (relatively) remote part of the park known as the Mason Flats Wetlands, which was only recently restored and is not currently open to the public. Apparently there's also an even more (relatively) remote "Alice Springs" area somewhere south of the slough, although I doubt it's anywhere near as wild and exotic as its Australian namesake.

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