Portland's Wetlands Natural Area

What was once a landfill in Portland, Ore., is now the largest protected metropolitan wetland in the United States.

Kayaker in Smith and Bybee Wetlands Natural Area, Portland, Ore., image

Kayaker Chantelle Gamba sets out on Portland’s Smith Lake.

For half a century, Portland residents trucked garbage to the city’s northern tip and dumped it into the network of sloughs and forests where the Columbia and Willamette rivers meet. Since the St. Johns Landfill closed in 1991, the city has turned the site and two neighboring seasonal lakes into the Smith and Bybee Wetlands Natural Area, the largest protected wetland within a U.S. city.

The 1,922-acre park sits side by side with industrial properties, a juxtaposition that underscores the park’s lushness. “You feel like you’re going into a different world,” says area ecologist Elaine Stewart. Trails and a new boat launch give hikers and paddlers a way in and a chance to spot migrating songbirds, for whom the lake is a favorite stop from March until May. They join the year-round residents: beavers, river otters, coyotes, bald eagles, and painted turtles—not a typical list of wildlife found within city limits. (503) 797-1850, tinyurl.com/smithandbybee.

Photography by Mark Gamba

This article was first published in March 2012. Some facts may have aged gracelessly. Please call ahead to verify information.

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