$1.2 million purchase buys 127 acres outside of Gaston

by: COURTESY PHOTO: METRO - The new Metro acreage straddles Dixon Mill Road and stretches almost halfway to the Wapato wildlife refuge, although gaps on either side of it will need to be filled before the corridor is complete.The creatures who wing or walk their way through the hills and forests just west of Chehalem Ridge won’t notice, but Metro finalized a deal last Friday to buy 147 acres that will help connect the Chehalem Ridge Natural Area with the Wapato Lake National Wildlife Refuge.

The $1.24 million purchase was funded by a $225 million bond measure, passed by voters in 2006 for Metro’s Natural Areas Program. The program, which buys habitat in order to protect water quality, wildlife, and recreation, also helped fund Metro’s previous purchase, in 2010, of 1,143 acres for the Chehalem Ridge Natural Area east of Gaston.

“It’s our goal to provide habitat connection,” said Kathleen Brennan-Hunter, director of Metro’s Natural Areas Program. Recreational trails are also a possibility down the road, according to a March 18 internal memo.

The 147 acres, which were bought from the Withycombe Trust, are visible from country roads and provide stunning vistas of the Wapato Lake basin and the coast range, according to Brennan-Hunter’s memo. The land includes rolling fields, many of which are carpeted with red clover during the summer, as well as several small patches of forest and a grove of large Oregon White Oaks. There is one spring and more than a mile of stream frontage along two unnamed creeks that empty into Wapato Creek, which itself empties into the Tualatin River, meaning the purchase will help protect the Tualatin’s water quality.

Restoration efforts could expand the property’s riparian areas and oak habitat, the memo said.

The area is nearly half of a 400-acre target area that Metro hopes will serve as a corridor between the core Chehalem Ridge Natural Area and its even larger neighbor to the east — the 4,300-acre Wapato Lake Unit of the Tualatin River National Wildlife Refuge, said Laura Odom, a Metro spokeswoman.

The Wapato Unit, established in 2007, stretches for miles along the east side of Highway 47 and includes a large amount of private property. For the past five years, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has been purchasing refuge land from willing sellers.

So far, the federal agency has bought 879 of the 4,300 acres.

Erin Holmes, manager of the Tualatin River National Wildlife Refuge, said that while it would be great to purchase the entire Wapato Unit, that’s unlikely.

“Our goal is to acquire enough land to restore Wapato Lake to its historic condition,” she saida

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