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Wapato Lake

Learn about the goals and objectives for habitat and water quality protection in the Wapato Lake 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 goal and objectives for the Wapato Lake target area are:

photo of Wapato Lake target area


  • Protect lands in the Wapato Lake area for water quality and wildlife habitat benefits.


Tier I Objective

  • Protect bottomland and lands along the Tualatin River south from the Fernhill Wetlands area to Gaston, including the northern basin of Wapato Lake.

Tier II Objective

  • Protect lands along Gales Creek, including the floodplain, from its confluence with the Tualatin River north to Ritchey Road for wildlife connections and water quality.

Partnership Objectives

  • Support the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s land acquisition efforts in the Wapato Lake area.
  • Explore partnership opportunities with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, City of Forest Grove, Clean Water Services, Tualatin River Watershed Council, Tualatin Riverkeepers, USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service and the Joint Water Commission to leverage regional dollars targeted to Fernhill Wetlands/Gales Creek area.

About the area

What was once Wapato Lake lies near Gaston and Forest Grove close to the headwaters of the Tualatin River. Farm uses and growers have helped maintain the rural character of the area and provided stewardship of this land for decades. Historically, Wapato Lake was one of the most important waterfowl sites in the Willamette Valley. The lake basin held water year-round, supporting a large wetland scrub-shrub community, which included diverse wildlife and the wetland plant known as wapato, whose tuber was an important potato-like staple for native and early Americans. With seasonal floodwaters of the Tualatin River, the lake would spread from approximately 600 acres to nearly 1,500 acres. The organic peat soils of the lakebed are a large and unique remnant of a wetland system once widely distributed in the Willamette Valley but scarce today.

In the 1930s, local landowners dammed, ditched and drained the lake in order to use the area for agricultural purposes. Even with vast changes over the years, the lake is still used extensively by tundra swans, geese and dabbling ducks. Much of the Wapato Lake area was recently designated a National Wildlife Refuge. There exists the potential to connect more than 5,000 acres of wetland habitat from Cornelius to the southwestern edge of Washington County.

2006 Natural Areas Program bond description

This ancient lakebed historically supported large numbers of waterfowl, including tundra swans. This flood-prone bottomland of the Tualatin River is being considered as a future wildlife refuge that will connect to existing public lands to the north located near Forest Grove and Hillsboro and attract tourists to Washington County. The area has the highest potential for protecting wildlife habitat and water quality in this part of the region, and also offers significant restoration opportunities.

Focus for Metro's 2006 Natural Areas Program

  • Protect and restore wildlife habitat and water quality.
  • Consider future wildlife refuge status connecting all protected public lands.
  • Consider the relationship between natural areas protection and existing agricultural operations.
  • The acquisition plan for this area will address Metro Council Resolution No. 06-3727, which included a commitment to keeping productive agricultural land in farm use and encouraging the use of conservation easements in agricultural areas.
  • Initial estimates are that a minimum of 400 acres of land would be protected within this target area.

Field research and scientific data findings

  • In February 2007 the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service approved the addition of a 4,300-acre Wapato Lake Unit to the Tualatin River National Wildlife Refuge.
  • The area is still extensively used by birds, ducks, Canada geese and tundra swans.
  • The wetland habitat supports sensitive Northern red-legged frogs and western pond turtles.
  • Restoring Wapato Lake would improve habitat conditions for a number of native fish species including Chinook salmon, Upper Willamette River steelhead, coho salmon, and Oregon chub, along with many others.
  • Stream and creekside restoration could link Wapato Lake to adjacent spawning areas.
  • There is the potential for securing valuable wildlife connections to the Chehalem Mountains.
  • Wapato Lake's soils are organic peat that once supported a broad group of regionally rare plants such as Geyer willow, Columbia sedge and bogbean. The wapato plant (Sagittaria latifolia) was found in stands in the upper marsh areas.

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.

To stay informed about the natural areas program, get on the natural areas mailing list by calling 503-797-1741 or sending e-mail to For media inquiries, call Karen Kane at 503-797-1942 or Heather Nelson Kent at 503-797-1739.

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Natural Areas Program

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