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River restoration, 100 acres at a time

Restoring the Sandy River Delta has been likened to tending an overgrown garden, albeit a much larger garden than most are used to.

“The Delta is about 1,500 acres, right where the Sandy River meets the Columbia,” said Steve Wise, executive director of the Sandy River Basin Watershed Council. “It’s a really vibrant ecological zone, but it’s also been a crossroad of culture.”CONTRIBUTED PHOTO: CONFLUENCE - This bird blind is one of six projects along the Columbia River installed by Confulence, intended to connect art and education.

Work on the former farm land has been underway for about 13 years, but with 900 acres now in a restoration phase, Wise said it’s time for a celebration.

“Just kind of a fun and informative time for people to get together to find out about its diversity and cultural heritage,” he said.

The event takes place from 9 a.m. to noon, Sunday, Sept. 20, at the Sandy River Delta, where visitors will get to see the progress made, as well as enjoy live music and historical tours.

“So far, the work had been proceeding at about 100 acres at a time,” Wise said. “So it depends on your sense of scale if that’s big to you, but for a restoration project, that’s a big space.”

The project has trudged forward thanks to a multi-organization partnership between the watershed council, East Multnomah Soil and Conservation District, Metro, Confluence and others.

“There’s this great range of supportive organizations that recognize this is a key habitat,” he said. “And they’re all working together to make it healthier.”

One of the more recent installations is from Confluence, which has placed six art projects along the Columbia River system, including a bird blind at the Sandy River Delta.

“Even with all the impact we people have put on the land there are still something like 200 bird species that get spotted,” Wise said.

Historically, the area had so many birds that when Meriwether Lewis and William Clark traveled through, their journals noted the intense noises from the animals and the disruption to their sleep.

“It’s 20 minutes from downtown Portland. Could you imagine camping there and hearing so many birds you can’t sleep?” said Colin Fogarty, executive director of Confluence.

The bird blind rests on a 1.2 mile trail and represents the 134 species Lewis and Clark experienced on their travels. Crafted from a black locust tree, the circular installation is comprised of 134 slats, inscribed with the name of each species.

“Of those six (sites), it’s unique in how much of a watershed restoration project it is,” Fogarty said. “We’re just glad to be part of this coalition. It really is a success story and I think that’s part of what we want to connect with people about. It’s more than a dog park, it’s more than a trail, it’s a place of historical and cultural significance. We connect people through art but the other groups have their own ways and we’re on the same team.”

The restoration, Wise said, really depends on the partnerships, both in volunteer staffing and funding.

“We can do 100 acres at a time as long as we can keep getting the funding resources,” Wise said. “Each 100 (acres) is three years (of work), but you can overlap if we have the resources to do that.”

Wise added if partnerships hold steady, he expects the entire restoration project to be completed within 10 years.

“But then it becomes an issue of maintenance,” Wise said. “Like any good garden you have to take care of it. The goal is to have it self sustaining.”

He added he hopes that some who attend the event will like the project enough to volunteer in the fall when they can resume planting work.

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