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Columbia Slough

Planning and conservation    Natural areas, parks and trails    Protecting natural areas    Acquiring natural areas    Columbia Slough

Learn about the goals and objectives for habitat and water quality protection in the Columbia Slough target area. View maps illustrating the Metro Council's priorities in this area and learn more about the importance of the area to our region.

The Metro Council's goals and objectives for the Columbia Slough target area are:

photo of Forest Park Connections target area


  • Protect and enhance habitat and linkages along the Columbia Slough.


Tier I Objectives

  • Expand resource protection along the slough and at existing habitat areas, including Whitaker Ponds, Big Four Corners, Prison Pond, Little Four Corners, Smith and Bybee Wetlands Natural Area, Wapato Slough and Vanport Wetlands.
  • Acquire property to create community connections between the St. Johns and Bridgeton neighborhoods and the Columbia Slough Trail and 40-Mile Loop Trail.
  • Acquire property to close trail gaps in the Columbia Slough Trail and 40-Mile Loop Trail between NE 33rd Avenue and the future Gresham-Fairview Trail.
  • Where strategic partnerships can contribute to acquisition and management, acquire other properties along the slough that with restoration will provide additional habitat connections and water quality benefits.

Tier II Objective

  • Create additional water access along the Slough.

About the area

The Columbia Slough is a 19-mile long remnant of lakes, wetlands and slow-moving channels in the southern floodplain of the Columbia River. It stretches from its origin at the 102-acre Fairview Lake and the headwaters of Fairview Creek near Grant Butte in Gresham westward to the 2,000-acre Smith and Bybee Wetlands Natural Area and to its confluence with the Willamette River.

The lower slough is free-flowing, but most of the slough is contained within a system of levees and floodgates and is managed by local drainage districts. Historically, the slough absorbed flood waters from the Columbia River, but in the early 1920s levees were constructed to prevent seasonal flooding and the waterway was transformed into the channeled and highly managed system now known as the Columbia Slough. Today, the nearly 40,000 acres of lands that drain to the Columbia Slough are heavily urbanized containing 24,000 homes and 4,500 businesses including commercial and industrial uses, the Portland International Airport and several golf courses.

With development and altered water circulation, the Columbia Slough experienced serious water quality decline. However, since the elimination of Combined Sewer Overflows in 2000, and watershed-wide restoration efforts, the slough is cleaner today than it has been in more than 100 years.

In spite of its urbanized character, the Columbia Slough contains surprising wildlife and plant diversity. Mammals such as deer, beaver and river otter are common along the slough, and about 175 bird species have been documented in the watershed.

Efforts are underway to close gaps in the Columbia Slough segment of the 40-Mile Loop, develop neighborhood connections to local and regional trails and increase access for paddlers on the slough.

2006 Natural Areas Program bond description

The Columbia Slough is one of very few areas in North and Northeast Portland with the potential for restoring fish and wildlife habitat. Acquisition along the slough will improve water quality in its critical reaches, provide trail connections to existing recreation areas, secure wildlife corridors and help complete an important section of the 40-Mile Loop.

Focus for Metro's 2006 Natural Areas Program

  • Protect lands along the slough to create opportunities for restoring fish and wildlife habitat and improving water quality.
  • Provide trail connections to existing recreation areas and enhance wildlife corridors and help complete an important section of the 40-Mile Loop.
  • Initial estimates are that a minimum of 50 acres of land would be protected within this target area.

Field research and scientific data findings

  • Natural vegetation along the Columbia Slough lowers the water temperature and improves water quality as well as protects fish and wildlife habitat.
  • The slough provides habitat for numerous birds such as heron, threatened bald eagles, endangered peregrine falcons, the streaked horned lark, migratory waterfowl, shorebirds and songbirds, including two sensitive species - the little willow flycatcher and the slender-billed nuthatch.
  • The lower free-flowing Columbia Slough, with its alcoves, backwaters, wetlands and sandy beaches, provides habitat to native Chinook, coho and steelhead.
  • Three species of freshwater mussels, increasingly rare in Oregon, inhabit several reaches throughout the slough.
  • Beaver, river otter and Western painted turtles (listed sensitive-critical by Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife) are found in the Columbia Slough.

Public input helps Metro Council set priorities

In September 2007 the Metro Council approved acquisition plans for each of the 27 regional target areas. The Metro Council established these priorities with the input of natural resource and land use experts, scientists, citizens and local land managers. More than 500 people attended eight community open houses to share their ideas with Metro Councilors. Nearly 1,000 people filled out questionnaires ranking their priorities and offering ideas for partnerships and other ways to stretch the public's investment. The acquisition plans include a map, goals and objectives for each target area.

Need assistance?

Natural Areas Program

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