hike: Oaks Bottom Wildlife Refuge

Almost every day, I go on a long walk with my dog, Astrid. I’m lucky to live close to Oaks Bottom Wildlife Refuge, so when I go on a 4 mile walk from my house, 2 of those miles are on trails.

Starting at the north entrance to Oaks Bottom at Milwaukie, the route along the base of the bluff takes you through wooded areas next to wetlands. It’s common to see people with binoculars at the viewing deck, watching the many types of waterfowl that frequent this area. On the south end, it’s possible to connect with the Springwater Corridor, a trail that runs from downtown all the way to Boring, Oregon, and Oaks Amusement Park, built in 1911 and still operating. I usually head back home via Sellwood Park, with it’s tall evergreens and great views of Oaks Bottom, downtown, and the West Hills.

the loop shown here is 3.6 miles


A funeral home in Sellwood, with murals that highlight the birds and trees in the area.

A few years ago, the trail was improved with raised walkways and a viewing platform.

open area at the south end of the park

closed trail due to eroding trail leading up to Sellwood Park

beside the Springwater Corridor Trail, popular with bicyclists

the new Sellwood bridge


trail connector to Sellwood Park

Sellwood Park

entrance to Sellwood Park, along SE Sellwood Blvd and SE 8th

More info about the wildlife refuge, from Wikipedia:

Oaks Bottom Wildlife Refuge is a city park of about 141 acres in southeast Portland, in the U.S. state of Oregon. Located in a floodplain along the east bank of the Willamette River near Sellwood, the park is known for attracting a wide variety of birds. In 1988, the park was named Portland’s first wildlife refuge, and in 2004, it was designated the city’s first migratory bird park.

Before the Bottom became a park, the raised bed of the rail line had largely separated the wetlands from the river. The south part of the wetlands had been altered by a sanitary landfill that the city acquired in 1969 to prevent its development as industrial land. The city later filled the north end of the park with debris from construction of Interstate 405 through downtown Portland. The plan in the early 1970s was to fill the rest of the wetlands and to use the space for museums, perhaps a motocross course, and a gondola lift to transport visitors from the top of the bluff to the park. Public pressure from the Audubon Society of Portland, the Sellwood-Moreland Improvement League, and The Nature Conservancy helped persuade the city to stop filling the wetlands. In 1988, after many years of debate, officials designated Oaks Bottom as the first urban wildlife refuge in Portland. Since then, Friends of Oaks Bottom, a volunteer group, has helped the city’s parks department with trail maintenance, habitat restoration, and information services.

As of 2010, more than 185 bird species have been recorded in the refuge including herons, egrets, hawks, osprey, shorebirds, gulls, terns, hummingbirds, woodpeckers, grebes, falcons, vultures, waterfowl, and many others. Vegetation, which varies from one part of the refuge to another, includes Oregon white oak, Pacific madrone, ash, and black locust trees; ferns, Oregon-grape, Scotch broom, and poison oak, as well as rushes, sedges, and other plants. Invasive species, gradually being replaced by physical removal and burning, include reed canary grass, purple loosestrife, Himalayan blackberry, and others.

To regulate the flow of water into and out of the wetlands, the parks department adds or removes boards at a small dam near the railroad berm. The idea is to replicate conditions that existed when the wetlands were fully connected to the river. Part of the water in the wetlands comes from natural springs, and part of the water comes from the river, when it runs high in the winter. Beavers have at times foiled the plan by damming the small stream that carries water between the lake and the river. The parks department has foiled the rodents by running a perforated pipe through the beaver dam.