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Bridge construction begins at Gaston-area wildlife refuge this month and will continue through the summer.

PMG PHOTO: JANAE EASLON - Larry Klimek, project manager at the Tualatin River National Wildlife Refuge, is one of the organizers for the Wapato Lake Wildlife Refuge project, with construction beginning this month.The future of Wapato Lake National Wildlife Refuge is becoming a little clearer as construction of its new pedestrian bridge gets under way.

Plans for the refuge, located in the heart of Gaston, are being overseen by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The refuge is currently not open to the public.

A lot of work needs to be done, including but not limited to restoring the wetlands from agricultural fields. This summer, the move to chip away at the large project begins, said Larry Klimek, refuge manager for the Tualatin River National Wildlife Refuge.

Two bridges will be constructed this summer — a pedestrian bridge to serve as the public's access point to the refuge, and a second bridge for vehicle access and maintenance purposes.

Gaston residents may hear some noises from construction, but no roads will be closed and the work will not disrupt traffic, Klimek said.

"The bridges will be access to the permanent wetland year-round," he said. "The public will be able to go out and enjoy the wildlife just across the street from downtown."

The Wapato Lake refuge has included indigenous and agricultural land over the course of its history.

Its lake bed partially fills with water during the winter months but often dries up in the summer.

PMG PHOTO: JANAE EASLON - Wapato Lake Wildlife National Refuge will see the construction of two new bridges this summer. The refuge was established by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service more than five years ago and is administered by the Tualatin River National Wildlife Refuge, 21 miles to the east in Sherwood.

Today, refuge staff are working to learn about the natural cycles of the lake bed and to plan habitat restoration activities to mimic those cycles.

The restoration of the lake bed has begun, and could take up to two years more, Klimek said.

Mammals, amphibians, birds, reptiles and fish call the refuge home, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Along with the restoration benefiting local wildlife, the plan for the wetlands is for the public to enjoy the natural area.

"We want to make this as accessible as possible, as well as protective as possible for the wildlife," Klimek said. "When we are done here, it'll be one of the largest wetlands in the Willamette Valley."

Once the wetlands open, Klimek hopes the area will be a pitstop for people visiting Washington County, and for students to visit for educational purposes.

"We have tourists out here for wineries, and this would be another piece for them to see," Klimek said.


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