Metro's Natural Areas program started 2010 with big news – literally – by purchasing 1,143 acres of forestland in the Chehalem Mountains of the Tualatin Valley. It's the largest acquisition in the history of the Portland region's two voter-approved natural area bond measures.
The new Chehalem Ridge Natural Area, south of Forest Grove, is one of the metropolitan area's biggest remaining swaths of undeveloped forest. At about the size of Oxbow Regional Park, the property is positioned to protect water quality and wildlife habitat in the Tualatin River Basin and serve as a scenic and recreational resource for the region.
"This acquisition nearly doubles the amount of land the Metro Council has protected with the latest bond measure, but Chehalem Ridge is much more than a number," Metro Council President David Bragdon said. "It's also a milestone in terms of scenery, restoration potential and partnerships."
The acquisition was a team effort. Metro bought the property on Thursday from The Trust for Public Land, a nonprofit conservation group. The Trust for Public Land negotiated a deal with the land's longtime owner, Portland-based Stimson Lumber Co.
Straddling the top of Chehalem Ridge, the new natural area provides panoramic views of surrounding farmland and five Cascade mountain peaks: Rainier, St. Helens, Adams, Hood and Jefferson.
A young Douglas fir forest dominates the property. Cedar, hemlock and grand fir can be found in the drainages on the cooler, eastern side of the ridge. Oak-madrone woodlands, which are increasingly rare in the northern Willamette Valley, make an appearance on south- and west-facing slopes.
Chehalem Ridge is the starting point for a network of streams that flow to the Tualatin River, which provides drinking water for 200,000 people. This feature creates opportunities for Metro to improve water quality beyond the natural area's property line.
"This property is extraordinary," said Metro Councilor Kathryn Harrington, who represents the western part of the region in District 4. "It's exciting to think that we've protected another natural area of this size, scale and quality in Washington County. It's a success for residents of the entire region."
Chehalem Ridge will complement bird and wildlife viewing opportunities planned at the nearby U.S. Fish and Wildlife Refuge at Wapato Lake.
The Metro Council's goals for land acquisition in this area include the potential for recreational uses. At Chehalem Ridge, an existing gravel and dirt road network could form the basis for a future trail system. For now, Metro's science staff will develop a plan to guide forest management practices, habitat restoration and appropriate interim opportunities for the public to experience Chehalem Ridge. (For details, stay tuned at www.oregonmetro.gov/chehalemridge.)
The Trust for Public Land has pledged $90,000 toward land management and stewardship during the first three years. Helping secure the acquisition and continuing to support Chehalem Ridge makes sense as the Portland metropolitan area invests in its natural environment, said the group's Oregon director, Geoff Roach. A diverse coalition is collaborating on The Intertwine, a movement to connect the region's parks, trails and natural areas and create a common identity. (Find details about The Intertwine at www.theintertwine.org.)
"We are delighted to be working in a region where business leaders, local government and nonprofits are encouraged to collaborate on land conservation," Roach said. "Love of nature is at the core of this region's outstanding quality of life. The Intertwine is leading the country in breaking down organizational and jurisdictional barriers to create, protect and enhance a world-class system of parks, trails and natural areas for everyone to enjoy - and Chehalem's a result."
The Metro Council's voter-approved 2006 Natural Areas Program funds land acquisition and capital improvements that protect water quality and fish and wildlife habitat, enhance trails and wildlife corridors and provide greater connections to nature in neighborhoods throughout the Portland metropolitan area.