This story appears in the Spring 2015 edition of Our Big Backyard, a quarterly magazine about parks and nature. Read more stories, plan an outing with a field guide, and find out more about fun nature events and classes.
A few miles south of Forest Grove, an emergent wetland with sedges, rushes and fallen logs allow water from nearby springs and creeks to flow into a larger pond. There, beavers and turtles gather, just a short distance from the Tualatin River.
The same spot looked much different just a year ago.
Crews in August 2014 began a transformation that included the removal of a manmade dam that held back an old pond. Tires, car batteries and asphalt were also removed as the water began to find its natural path through the property.
The work was one of the first major steps as Metro and Clean Water Services partner to restore Maroon Ponds and to bring back vital wetlands and riparian forests. Restoring places like Maroon Ponds provide value by improving water quality, enhancing habitat and protecting communities against flooding.
At Maroon Ponds, the restoration work improves water quality by filtering and cleaning water before it flows into the Tualatin River. New plantings of native trees and shrubs shade and cool the water, creating better conditions for steelhead trout and salmon.
"The big-picture goal is to restore as much of the natural function and habitat as we can," said Elaine Stewart, a senior natural resources scientist at Metro working on Maroon Ponds.
Crews in early 2014 began preparing the site for restoration, including efforts to control invasive reed canarygrass, whose roots extend in an expansive network at least 18 inches deep.
The heavy lifting occurred in August and September, when excavators and dump trucks helped restore the natural hydrology of the site. Four unused roads were also decommissioned.
"This is about restoring watershed health while supporting the Tualatin Basin’s vibrant agricultural community," said Rob Emanuel, a water resources project manager at Clean Water Services.
In January, crews planted Oregon ash, snowberry, willow, red-stemmed dogwood and other native vegetation to create an understory of shrubs and trees to attract native wildlife.
"It’ll provide nesting habitat for birds and more wood for the beavers," Stewart said. "Ultimately, the trees will grow and fall over, creating hiding spaces for juvenile salmon in the floodplain when the Tualatin River overtops its banks."
On a sun-drenched January morning, fog lingered as crews thinned fast-growing Douglas firs to provide for a healthy forest with more space and sunlight for Oregon white oaks and madrones.
Occasional shouts of "clear!" rang out as trees were thinned so they could better support the needs of a healthy riparian forest and also provide vital bird habitat. One man clambered two-thirds of the way up a 50-foot Douglas fir to cut off the top third to create a living snag for birds. The top fell into the nearby wetlands, creating more habitat for fish.
More work is ahead. Periodic weed treatments will keep invasive reed canarygrass in check, allowing the native plants to gain a strong foothold. In coming winters, thousands of additional trees and shrubs will be planted to restore the riparian forest and other plant communities.
The restoration work at Maroon Ponds, a Metro-owned site, is possible thanks to investments made by regional voters for parks and natural areas and by Clean Water Services, a regional public water resources utility in Washington County. The innovative partnership leverages the two agencies’ combined resources to further protect clean water in the Tualatin River Watershed, reconnect floodplains and create healthy natural spaces.