Sunday, March 24, 2013

Smith and Bybee Wetlands

Smith and Bybee Wetlands

This is a strange little area. It is a couple of lakes in the middle of the industrial part of Portland and completely surrounded by train yards and boatyards, and an old trash dump. But given all of that, it was an interesting place to paddle. Beaver sign ALL OVER the place. We may even have seen a beaver (it may have been a nutria).

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You enter the area on the north side down a road that goes right by the Columbia river and the Portland Expo center. I guess you could ride the Max out here if they had a kayak rack (damn bike riders have a bike rack on the max....). There is a fair amount of parking, but you may want to be ready to carry your boat a few hundred yards (bring some wheels). This time of year, the lake is way high and the path down to the water ended 50 feet sooner than it does in the summer. So the water is high all around, up in the trees, and the trees do not yet have leaves. Give it a sort of bleak kind of feel. That and the clouds and cold wind......

Rafting up for safety lecture

A lot of kayaks out today, I think we had 17 in our group. Would have made me feel safe except we had a number of new comers that were not in quite the kind of gear I would have liked for them. (But they made it just fine and had a good time, so perhaps I am a worry wort).

We did a quick down wind traverse of Smith lake and took the more sheltered little water-way that goes over to Bybee. We quickly ran into a nice Beaver Lodge. With Beaver !! (I think). We also saw a Bald Eagle. Another group of Kayaks said the Eagle had just scooped a fish out of the pond right in front of them. Cool.

He is pointing at a beaver. Now where is that sucker?


Just a cool old tree. Right next to the floating beaver carcass. Look for it !!

At the other end of Bybee lake is a rather large rookery for Great Blue Heron. There seemed to be upward of 50 nests in the trees and a lot of Heron heads. Saw one of the big birds (we call them Pterodactyls) come in with a branch for the nest. He coasted majestically through the trees and than managed to hover, wings flapping, for several moments before he landed on his nest. Pretty cool.

Great Blue Heron Rookery
You can see some birds standing up there

Snow on the mountains. Behind the ah....... factories.

Just a few hundred yards further West is a huge old beaver dam. This thing is about 5 foot high and perhaps 60 foot long and closes off another separate pond. At great risk to my dignity, I got out of my kayak and took some pictures for you fine folk. Notice how the water in the pond side is a couple of feet higher than the water in the lake. What a great dam!!. Jenifer said she saw 6 painted turtles on a log in the pond before I got up there. These turtles are on their way to being a protected species.


On our way back we started going into the wind, it was pretty much uphill for the return. We passed several flood control gates as we went. Evidently Ducks Unlimited put some money into the area a few years back and added flood gates that allow the lake to be kept higher than the surrounding river level during the wet months. This makes a better habitat for the birds and other wildlife and also stunts the growth of the exotic invasive reed canary grass. During the summer, the gates are all open and the lake water is low and “tidal”.

On our return, when we got back to the entrance to Smith Lake, the wind had blown up quite a bit and there was white caps on the lake. But our take out was pretty much diretly up wind, so we took off across the lake directly into the waves. Doing that is actually a lot easier than going sideways to the wind and waves. I only had a couple of waves break over my bow. Gave me a little think about. I was a little wary, a little tired, and had to push hard. And this wasn't even a big wind or a big lake or a big deal. Just a little taste. Just a little warning to keep my eyes open (and maybe get that Drysuit with my REI rebate).


I think Smith and Bybee on in a sort of rebound time, evidently last year the lake was closed because of a avian disease that was killing all of the birds. I am sure that the abandoned trash dump and toxic dump site to the south had nothing to do with it.

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