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Sandy River Gorge

Planning and conservation    Natural areas, parks and trails    Protecting natural areas    Acquiring natural areas    Sandy River Gorge

Learn about the goals and objectives for habitat and water quality protection in the Sandy River Gorge 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 Sandy River Gorge target area are:

photo of Sandy River Gorge target area


  • Protect biological linkages by acquiring essential properties along the Sandy River and its tributaries for the protection of fish and wildlife habitat and water quality benefits.
  • Pursue partnerships throughout the target area to achieve objectives and maximize the leveraging of regional bond funds.


Tier I Objective

  • Protect the highly productive fish habitat along Gordon Creek adjacent to currently protected public lands.

Tier II Objective

  • Protect forest habitat areas along the Sandy River and fill in the gaps in public ownership between Dodge Park and Stark St. Bridge.

Partnership Objectives

  • Work with existing groups (including the City of Portland Water Bureau, the Sandy River Basin Partners group, The Nature Conservancy, Western Rivers Conservancy, BLM, and PGE) to leverage regional bond funds to the maximum extent possible to achieve Tier I priorities and to preserve a continuous wildlife corridor connecting the Gordon Creek basin with federal lands to the east.
  • Support efforts by other public agencies to restore habitat and create regional trails in the lower reach of the Sandy River (from Stark Street to the Sandy River's confluence with the Columbia River).

About the area

The Sandy River cuts a 55-mile serpentine swath from Mount Hood to the Columbia River. Sediment from a 1790s Mount Hood eruption was still being flushed down the river by the time Lewis and Clark arrived in 1805 and found the river to be "formed entirely of quicksand." That once impassable sandy river bears little resemblance to the narrow, fairly deep lower river of today, noted for its many oxbows, lush forests sweeping down to the waterline, and populations of native salmon, steelhead and smelt. A 12.5-mile stretch of the river – from Dodge Park downstream to the Stark Street Bridge – wends its way through 800-foot-high basalt and sandstone canyons known as the Sandy River Gorge. A rich canopy of Douglas fir, western red cedar and alder help harbor large wildlife including elk, black bear, deer and cougar. Oxbow Regional Park, within the Sandy River gorge, is one of the region's premier nature parks offering recreational opportunities, environmental education programs, as well as rare access so close to the city to an ancient forest, ridges and ravines carved by volcanic and glacial flows. This portion of the river is designated both a State Scenic Waterway and a National Wild and Scenic River.

A key protection strategy that has picked up steam in the past decade is the acquisition and donation of land in the Sandy River basin. Portland General Electric (PGE), in an agreement with Western Rivers Conservancy, plans to dismantle Marmot Dam in 2007, the Little Sandy Dam in 2008, donate its water rights to the public and contribute more than 1,500 acres of its related lands. Metro owns and manages more than 2,200 acres, including Oxbow Regional Park. Smaller, strategic acquisitions have been made by The Nature Conservancy which has protected 435 acres in the Gorge between Dodge and Oxbow parks.

2006 Natural Areas Program bond description

Acquisitions along this wild and scenic waterway and its tributaries will provide important fish and wildlife habitat and water-quality benefits.

1995 Natural Areas Program goals and accomplishments

  • Complement the federal management plan (BLM) and protect biological connections by protecting 800 acres along the Wild and Scenic section of the Sandy River from Dodge Park downstream to the Stark Street Bridge to preserve fish and wildlife habitat, water quality, geologic, scenic and recreation values.
  • Acquire and protect important segments of major tributaries to the Sandy River including Gordon Creek, Trout Creek, Big Creek, Buck Creek and Bull Run River.

To date 1,081.85 acres have been protected by Metro's program.


New focus for Metro's 2006 Natural Areas Program

Continue preserving highly strategic riparian and forested acreage along the Sandy River and important lands of its major tributaries to protect fish and wildlife habitat and water quality.

Field research and scientific data findings

Lower Sandy River Watershed

  • Protecting the Sandy River's lower reaches is a priority in preserving fall and spring Chinook salmon populations.
  • An area adjacent to the Sandy River approximately one mile north of its confluence with Walker Creek has high water quality and valuable fish habitat, including potential side channel spawning areas.
  • The area supports wildlife corridors highly used by large mammals such as deer, cougar, elk and black bear extending to Mount Hood and the Cascades.

Gordon Creek

  • The only free-flowing, unobstructed tributary in the Lower Sandy watershed, Gordon Creek is an important spawning area for threatened Sandy River fall Chinook and winter steelhead.
  • Public ownership in the upper areas of Gordon Creek represents the only opportunity in the metro region to connect higher elevation federal forest lands to large protected riparian tracts at lower elevations.
  • Preserving connections east to the Sandy River and west to federal lands could succeed in retaining critical corridors for large mammals such as bear and deer.

Buck Creek

  • Buck Creek is important for steelhead and salmon productivity, but a culvert affects fish passage.

Trout Creek

  • An area west of Groce Road and Trout Creek to the east bank of the Sandy River has very high value fish habitat and water quality.

Sandy River mainstem (Stark St. Bridge downstream to the confluence with the Columbia River)

  • New potential for habitat restoration, greenways, trails, public recreation has been identified in this area.

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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