At most of Metro’s natural areas, restoration projects are pretty low-touch. Invasive plant species like blackberry or English ivy are removed and replaced with native plants, maybe a few Douglas firs will be felled to give Oregon white oak a chance to thrive. The biggest tool used is a chain saw. The approach gives the landscape a boost so it can then strengthen itself.
Sometimes, though, a restoration project looks more like a massive construction site.
That was River Island Natural Area six years ago. The site neighbors Barton County Park on the Clackamas River. It had been a gravel quarry until the 1996 flood wiped it out. The industrial infrastructure of pits and earthen berms had been built to thwart natural processes, like seasonal flooding, and two decades later they were still keeping the landscape from healing itself. The natural area needed a big kick-off to get started.
Earth movers shaped a gravel-filled channel and cut a link between a stream and a pond. Stone sorters separated gravel from stones so the stones could make a stream bottom and the gravel would go to the floodplain. A tractor with a pulverizing mower ate through blackberry thick along levies. Excavators hoisted enormous logs and stacked them into logjams.
When the heavy-lift phase of the project ended, it looked impressive, but unless you were a natural resource scientist like the project’s lead, Brian Vaughn, it was hard to see the nature in the project. But just like the softer-touch projects, all that big, earth-moving work was simply helping the landscape get to a state where it could do its good work.
Six years later, it’s easy to see nature healing.
Here’s what Vaughn sees when he looks at River Island today.
Note: River Island Natural Area, like Metro's other natural areas, is open to the public but it is not easily accessible. There are no parking spaces, trailheads, signs or any other facilities that are at Metro's nature parks. To see similar habitats as those at River Island, visit Oxbow Regional Park, Killin Wetlands Nature Park or Smith and Bybee Wetlands Natural Area.