The Tualatin River is born high in the Oregon Coast Range and it flows nearly 100 miles through the heart of fast-growing Washington County on the western edge of the Portland Metro area.
Brian Wegener, the Watershed Watch co-ordinator for Tualatin RiverKeepepers, said that paddling the river in a canoe “puts him in touch with his neighborhood.”
“The Tualatin is a great place for beginners,” noted the longtime conservationist, because most of the year there is little or no current. There’s not much traffic on the river either and as you can see, at this time of year, it is carpeted with the golden leaves of the ash trees that fall on the river.”
“The river drops a foot and a half over a thirty mile reach,” added Wegener. “So, there’s no gradient to speak of – and it’s a great place for blue herons, green herons, bald eagles and ospreys.”
Wegner and the small party of friends who joined our paddle trip near Sherwood, Oregon are all members of the Tualatin Riverkeepers.
The organization centers its activities on recreation and protection of the watershed.
It is a grass roots conservation organization that puts the paddles of the members into action to help the river.
For example, on a recent fall afternoon, scores of volunteers gathered and walked the talk of caring for the stream.
They gave up their free time to pickup up boatloads of trash from the river’s shoreline.
“Garbage of all kinds,” noted Wegener. “Lawnmowers, garbage bags, plastic, all sorts of stuff - even a 30-year-old car chassis.”
Tarri Christopher, a longtime TRK member, added: “This river is the source of our drinking water, so it’s important for us to keep it clean. We take a recreational aspect and we turn it into an educational component too.”
Paul Whitney, another longtime Riverkeeper, agreed with the conservation aspect of their group and added that paddling puts his mind at ease as the fall colors come into their own.
“My blood pressure drops and I can feel the calmness with each paddle stroke. I consider it undiscovered wilderness that most people in the Portland area aren’t aware of…maybe you don’t get the diversity of colors that you do in New England – but it’s certainly a show of yellows and oranges.”
The most common tree along the river is Oregon Ash and when they drop their leaves, it’s as if a bright yellow carpet had been laid down across the water’s surface. It is really beautiful!
Not only on the river, but ashore at the Tualatin River National Wildlife Refuge where many people stop in at this time of year to gaze across more than a thousand acres of protected landscape near Sherwood, Oregon.
“It’s a gem and it’s an unusual situation where people can take a bus and go to a wildlife refuge, noted longtime paddler and Metro Councilor, Carl Hosticka. “When you get out on this river, you see you’re out in nature, but you go only a mile in any direction and there’s the city and people and development.”
It’s a remarkable contrast and the sort of place that may leave you wondering, ‘Why haven’t I been here before?’
The refuge was established in 1992 and it opened to the public in 2007.
It is vast for an urban wildlife refuge at more than a thousand acres.
The site is best enjoyed on the “Refuge Trail:” a mile long, wheelchair accessible ribbon of wonders that skirts the wetland’s perimeter and follows the river too.
There are plenty of stops along the way including a river overlook where you may spy waterfowl during the fall and winter seasons.
It is a fine place to escape the city rush for the rush of wings.
Christopher noted that most people who live in Washington County, one of the state’s most populous counties, don’t even know about the river that they live near.
“And that’s okay because we love to introduce folks to it. The refuge offers that opportunity and the Riverkeepers really encourage people to visit it.”
Wegener added that he and other members (there are nearly 1,000 Tualatin Riverkeeper members) are pushing hard for more river access closer to the refuge so more people can explore – mile by mile – the river’s beauty and adventure.
“When you’re out on a day like this and it is so quiet, you can’t really see much human influence – it sure feels like what it must have been 200 years ago.”