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Metro natural areas near Gaston and Banks expand

Regional government land purchases grow land banks near Wapato Lake and Killin Wetlands

Two natural areas in western Washington County recently got bigger, with help from Metro's 2006 natural areas bond measure.

Significant expansions to the Killin Wetlands near Banks and the Wapato Lake natural area near Gaston are designed to protect water quality and wildlife habitat. That's good for people, too, said Metro Councilor Kathryn Harrington.

'There's a real connectedness between bugs, frogs, birds, floodplains, flowing streams and rivers and our clean drinking water and air,' said Harrington, who represents the west side of the region. 'The prosperity of wildlife, our natural areas and people are connected.'

Metro's Natural Areas Program invests money from a voter-approved bond measure to buy land from willing sellers in 27 areas across the region, including the Killin Wetlands and Wapato Lake.

Last month, a 215-acre purchase expanded the Killin Wetlands to a total of nearly 600 acres. A draw for elusive marsh birds, the natural area represents the Willamette Valley's largest remaining peat soil wetlands and some of the region's last scrub-shrub marsh. It supports a rare collection of plants and animals.

The new addition includes nearly a mile along the west fork of Dairy Creek, as well its confluence with Cedar Canyon Creek. Metro will continue leasing the land to a farmer while developing a long-term plan to restore the site's historic wetlands.

A $500,000 contribution from a grant managed by Ducks Unlimited, Inc., a wetland conservation organization, helped Metro with the $650,000 purchase.

A dozen miles south, near Gaston, Metro expanded its Wapato Lake natural area by 150 acres near Southwest Fern Hill Road, creating a 500-acre expanse of protected land. The new addition, purchased for $1.3 million, includes a hazelnut farm and a forest with Douglas fir trees and scattered maple, ash and Oregon white oaks. This growing natural area is part of a habitat corridor linking the Tualatin River floodplain to Metro's 1,200-acre Chehalem Ridge Natural Area.

Laura Odom Oppenheimer works for Metro.

Before that, she worked for The Oregonian.