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Watershed paddle tour reveals 'gems of habitat'

Setting out in colorful one or two-person watercraft and two giant canoes, more than 60 people had one objective — to paddle down the Willamette River and check out watershed projects along a six-mile stretch from Gladstone to Milwaukie.

And what did they see on Saturday, July 20?

by: PHOTO BY: ELLEN SPITALERI - Eleanore Hunter, vice chairwoman of the Oak Grove Community Council (right), joins other local environmental leaders on Saturday July 20.“Gems of habitat” along the river, said Peter Guillozet, the tour guide on one of the canoes and an ecologist with Third Stream Consulting, who has worked on a number of the projects for Clackamas County.

Paddlers oohed and aahed as they observed herons roosting on decks, watched a gull battling an osprey for a fish, then saw two bald eagles fly by as vultures soared overhead or huddled on tree branches along the river bank.

But they also saw invasive species crowding out native plants on some riverfront properties of individual landowners.

“Homeowners along the river have privileges and rights associated with waterfront living, and they also have some responsibilities,” Guillozet said.

He understands that homeowners want to preserve their river views and have a beautiful landscape, but “they can have an appealing private landscape and at the same time have one that is beneficial to wildlife and the river.”

As an example, he pointed out that many homeowners have left invasive Himalayan blackberry on their property, thinking it provides food for birds, but that only provides “one burst of food,” while a native species would provide food for a longer period.

Although some owners may view landscaping along a riparian or river area as a problem, “I look at it as an opportunity to support multiple species and make something appealing to look at,” Guillozet added.

Connecting with nature

Like so many of the individual projects along the river, the paddle trip resulted from a collaboration among a number of different organizations, nonprofits, county agencies and individuals.

Samantha Johnson and Tonya McLean, both education team members for the Lower Columbia Estuary Partnership, provided the big canoes, each seating 15 people.

“This stretch of the river has not had a lot of research and planning from official agencies; instead it has been left up to smaller, local groups to get these projects under way,” Johnson said.

She introduced Tonia Burns, natural resource coordinator for North Clackamas Parks and Recreation District, who served as a tour guide in the second canoe, Eleanore Hunter, vice chairwoman of the Oak Grove Community Council, Terry Gibson, vice president of the Oak Lodge Sanitary District Board and Tricia Sears, coordinator for the North Clackamas Urban Watersheds Council.

“I love looking at the things from the river view; seeing all the connections and collaborations between watershed councils, agencies and other nonprofits. It takes a lot to get anything accomplished. We each have our strengths and different roles, and we can’t do it by ourselves,” Sears said.

Hunter echoed that thought, adding that on the river “we understand the connectedness of the watershed and people.”

Gibson said the tour was an eye-opening experience for him; as the vice president of the sanitary district, this was the first time I have seen the confluence of the Willamette River with Boardman Creek, the mouth of the watershed basin that I also represent to the NCUWC.” 

For JoAnn Herrigel, sustainability director for the city of Milwaukie, the most valuable part of the trip was hearing comments from Guillozet about the biological aspects of riverfront properties.

“It is interesting how people have taken lawns and turned them into habitat along the riparian areas, and it is not that hard. We had people in our boat who live and work along the river, and they had aha moments.”

Herrigel said that in her job, “we do a lot of looking down at maps, but when I am in a boat, I feel the tangible benefits of what I am doing on a day-to-day basis.”

River tour

The 2013 Willamette River paddle trip and watershed tour of river restoration projects or potential projects, from Gladstone to Milwaukie, took place on Saturday, July 20.

The six-mile route included: Lonesome Bottom and Goat Island backchannel, Rinearson Creek confluence at Meldrum Bar, Mary Young and Turkey creeks confluence, Cedar Island backchannel, Boardman Creek confluence, Hogg Island backchannel, Rivervilla Park, Tryon Creek confluence, Spring Park and Elk Rock Island, Kellogg Creek confluence, Johnson Creek confluence and Jefferson Street Boat Ramp in Milwaukie.

The tour was presented by: The North Clackamas Urban Watersheds Council, in partnership with the Big Canoes of the Lower Columbia Estuary Partnership and the small canoes of Willamette Riverkeeper. The Tryon Creek Watershed Council and the Johnson Creek Watershed Council also took part.