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Willamette Narrows and Canemah Bluff

Planning and conservation    Natural areas, parks and trails    Protecting natural areas    Acquiring natural areas    Willamette Narrows and Canemah Bluff

Metro expands protection of geologic features and rare habitats in Oregon City and West Linn

Future of Canemah taking shape

With input from neighbors, Metro completed a natural resource and site management plan for Canemah Bluff in fall 2011. The plan lays out restoration work and trail changes for the natural area. Download the plan

Escape to nature in the middle of an urban setting 

Just south of West Linn, at its confluence with the Tualatin River, the Willamette River flows through a stretch of steep cliffs and rocky islands called the Willamette Narrows. Upland bluffs offer views of the river, trees and huge basalt rocks, while lower portions offer sandy beach access to the river. Although the area is just minutes from West Linn and Oregon City to the north and Wilsonville to the west, it can feel untouched and remote.

Willamette Narrows abuzz with life

The Willamette Narrows area is home to deer, coyote, frogs, salamanders, osprey, owls, heron, woodpeckers and numerous songbirds. In the future, it will offer access to people for an extraordinary natural area experience close to home. Many of the region’s most unique plant species, including the rare Delphinium leucophaeum and the culturally significant camas, are found on these sites. The oak woodland and upland prairie habitats found here in abundance have nearly disappeared in other areas of the Willamette Valley.

The area includes large boulders, rocky piles and other features that were likely created by the action of the Missoula (or Bretz) Floods at the end of the Ice Age. Metro originally purchased land in the area in 1996 and has been adding to it ever since.

One-of-a-kind fen protected near Willamette River

A rare fen located in the Willamette Narrows area provides habitat to uncommon, varied and high-quality plant communities. The fen, called the Peach Cove Bog, is a unique type of wetland that includes a shallow lake with a floating peat mat. According to the Oregon Natural Heritage Program, it is the only remaining fen of its kind in the Willamette Valley.

Nature and history are being preserved on Canemah Bluff

Located on the bluff in Oregon City overlooking the Willamette River, Canemah Bluff offers scenic views to and from the neighboring city of West Linn. The Canemah Bluff natural area is part of the region's network of parks, natural areas and trails and is managed by Metro. It is located adjacent to the Canemah Neighborhood Park and Canemah Historic District of Oregon City. The is valued for its rich diversity of habitats including conifer forests, ash bottomlands, wildflowers and rare Oregon white oak and Pacific madrone woodlands.

Metro made its first purchase of land on the bluff, 22 acres, in 1996. Money from the voter-approved 1995 natural areas bond measure funded that deal. That bond measure, and the 2006 follow-up bond measure have led to additional purchases in the area as opportunities come up. Metro’s Natural Areas Program only buys land from people willing to sell their land.

Unique habitat and species protected and restored

Because they are so rare, maintaining and enhancing the oak woodland and madrone trees found in the Canemah Bluff natural area has been a priority for Metro's science team. Forest management, such as tree thinning, has been necessary to prevent the fast-growing Douglas fir and big-leaf maple from outpacing the slower-growing oaks. Getting rid of invasive plants like scotch broom and blackberry has allowed the prairie's wildflowers to thrive. Camas and Brodiaea lilies, white larkspur, rosy Plectritis and many other native wildflowers can be found in bloom from March to May

In the northern part of Canemah Bluff, a spring, stream and wetland add complexity and increase the land's habitat value for wildlife.  A series of rocky outcrops further south in the natural provide crevices and small caves for critters and animals. Chipping sparrows, red breasted sapsuckers, white-breasted nuthatches and orange crowned warblers make a home on the land, along with hawks and eagles that can be seen soaring over the nearby river.  

Shaped by history

The Canemah Bluff has a diverse history dating back to pre-historic times.  It overlooks the Willamette River approximately 2,300 feet upriver of Willamette Falls, a major traditional fishing and gathering location for Native American populations.   Canemah was also an early focus of settlement in the Willamette Valley.  The town reached its height from 1850-1870 and included many buildings and a landing for riverboats

Careful observation in this area offers many clues to the “recent” geological events and human management that helped shape the landscape seen today.  The bluffs are part of a rock bench sandwiched between the Willamette River and the higher plateau to the east.  The underlying geology of the bench is Columbia River Basalt. The top of the bluff is composed of more recent Troutdale formation and Boring Lava deposits.  During the Missoula Floods, the steep bluffs and bench where the Canemah Bluff natural area is located were exposed, scoured and steepened as floodwaters repeatedly spilled into and out of the Willamette Valley.  These geological events, plus regular burning by Native Americans until around 1850 have created a mosaic of uncommon habitats on the bluff.  Similar habitats can be found at the Camassia Preserve, Elk Rock Island and other areas of the Willamette Narrows.

Need assistance?

Natural Areas Program
503-797-1545
naturalareas@oregonmetro.gov

Canemah Bluff natural resource and site management plan

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Related Links

Willamette Narrows and Canemah Bluff goals and objectives

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

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