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Education center celebrates a decade

This Saturday will be a day of celebration at Jackson Bottom Wetlands Preserve. Ten years ago to the day — Sept. 28, 2003 — the modern Wetlands Education Center building at 2600 S.W. Hillsboro Highway opened to the public.

For several years prior to that date, the Jackson Bottom information center facility was a humble single-wide trailer that did not even have plumbing.

Much has changed. In 2013, the Wetlands Education Center is no longer housed in a trailer, but in an attractive 12,000 square foot, two-story facility.

The Education Center provides informational displays on many wildlife and plant species, and has become a very popular place.

According to Mary Loftin, community resources manager for the city of Hillsboro, the site is a huge attraction for area schools.

“We get hundreds and hundreds of students literally every day from now until Christmas,” Loftin explained. “There are school buses arriving from all over the Hillsboro School District and around the area. Some classes make it a true classroom, and visit on multiple days.”

Loftin said most of the students are from elementary schools, but even high schoolers come to the site for studies in environmental education.

“More than 6,210 students and 864 adult helpers were engaged and educated through hands-on learning experiences in traveling and field programs over the past fiscal year,” explained Loftin. “Also, seven different groups of Boy Scouts/Weblos explored the wetlands and earned badges, and nine week-long sessions of summer camp encouraged youth to get outside, gain outdoor skills, investigate ecology and get their hands on insects, reptiles, macro invertebrates and amphibians.”

In addition to the physical structure that now serves as the on-site headquarters of the Jackson Bottom Wetlands Preserve, the 635-acre preserve itself has undergone tremendous changes in its approximately two decades of existence.

“It has gone from being a dumping ground and sewage area, and is now back to the original wetlands,” said Loftin. “There has been a lot of mitigation work in the marshes.”

The preserve — owned by the city of Hillsboro and Clean Water Services and managed by the Hillsboro Parks & Recreation Department — is now home to as many as 200 species of birds and several native frog groups.

Also, two native turtle species — Western painted turtles and Western pond turtles — are present, and the turtle habitat is about to be enhanced. Loftin explained that a dozen Douglas fir trees need to be removed from Shute Park in Hillsboro, and several of the logs will be relocated to marshes at Jackson Bottom, where they will be placed to serve as basking logs for turtles.

“The turtles are just outside the preserve in the Tualatin River, just feet away,” Loftin said. “We’ve created habitat — Wapato Marsh — and are now bringing in logs to serve as basking structures in the hopes of drawing the turtles from the river into the preserve.”

Also during Saturday’s festivities, a new artistic gate will be dedicated at the opening to the trail at the north end visitors’ platform site at Jackson Bottom. The gate was created by Hillsboro artist Tim Gabriel and is considered part of the city’s public art project.

“The gate is hand-forged steel that is backed with a cut aluminum panel,” explained Valerie Otani, public art program supervisor for the city of Hillsboro. “The gate will be open most of the year, and is closed during the nesting season for some of the birds in the wetlands and when the paths are soggy.”

Loftin said the wetlands preserve is a true city treasure.

“We have this amazing gem in Hillsboro that not everybody remembers to visit and enjoy,” she said. “Literally it’s three minutes from downtown, and you can get away from the city and be in the middle of nowhere and figuratively get lost in there.”




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