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As the Springwater Trail reopens in Oaks Bottom, we'll watch to see how bike commuters react

DAVID F. ASHTON - Workers replace the fence between the Springwater Corridor Trail path and the Oregon Pacific Railroad tracks, one of the project's final touches. As workers were putting finishing touches to control channel erosion, it was clear that the major work involved in the Oaks Bottom Wildlife Refuge restoration project was ending.

During a mid-October visit to the site, the Springwater Corridor Trail had been repaved in the construction zone and workers were installing the steel chain-link fence that separates the Trail's pathway from the Dick Samuels' Oregon Pacific Railroad line.

Down below, a cadre of workers were putting in erosion-control features, lining the tidal slough channels. "First, we're seeding the area with a native grass; then, laying erosion control fabric over it and staking it in place to keep the birds from eating the seed, and to keep the soil from sloughing off when rain comes," explained Kent Evans, representing the major contractor, LKE Corporation.

Of the 141-acre area, the $8.8 million project affected only about half of the refuge area – the part that needed to be renovated to make it a working tidal wetland.

"As we put the 'finishing touches' on the construction phase of this project, it's turned out – well – spectacularly!" said Portland Bureau of Environmental Services (BES) Project Manager Sean Bistoff. "Every time I come out, the project looks a little more finished; and now it's looking very much like a wildlife refuge again!"

The major work of replacing the small pipe that once connected the wetland to the Willamette River with a huge 16' x 12' box culvert, and then excavating the 2,000 linear feet of tidal slough channels, "will certainly improve water quality and wetland health," Bistoff pointed out.

BES Environmental Program Coordinator Ronda Fast told THE BEE she was looking forward to the wetland being returned to its intended inhabitants. "Soon, this will be a place for wildlife to once again reclaim as their own.

"The otter will return; and the beaver, in particular, will begin sculpting and manipulating these channels, because that's what they do. Waterfowl, migratory birds, and turtles will come back here, and make this place their home," Fast mused, as she gazed over the area. "And. we are all eagerly anticipating watching the river levels come up, and see the improved connection between the Willamette River and the wetland, for the first time in 100 years!"

Such a massive restoration undertaking would not have taken place without the participation of their partners, Bistoff emphasized – the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and Portland Bureau of Parks & Recreation. "We're grateful for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' fiscal support [funding $4.9 million, or 65 percent of the cost], and their logistical expertise in carrying out projects such as these – without their help, this project would have been impossible.

"And, we worked extensively – especially in the design phase – with the staff of the land and trail owners, the Portland Parks Bureau, to make sure that this project mets their criteria – and we will continue working with them," Bistoff said.

He also commended the crew of K&E Excavating, Inc., which did the heavy construction of digging out and refilling the levee, as well as restoration contractor LKE Corporation. "And, we are also appreciative of Richard Samuels, owner of Oregon Pacific Railroad, who worked so well with our contractors."

The Springwater Corridor Trail should reopen on the first of November, Bistoff pointed out.

"And, in the spring, we'll invite volunteers to come in and help replant about 8,500 trees and shrubs," Fast added. "Over time, we will watch this place fill in with native vegetation."

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