Plans in motion to restore Ross Island habitat

Dreaming of motor boating to this Willamette River isle – to take family and friends for a delightful picnic ashore? Forget it! Find out why, before, during, and after restoration you can look at – but not touch – this City-owned 45-acre paradise …

David McAllister of Portland Parks & Recreation points out the Holgate Channel where they hope to create a “No Wake” zone.

Story and photos by David F. Ashton
More than a year after Robert B. Pamplin Jr., owner of Ross Island Sand & Gravel Company and Community Newspapers, Inc., donated a 44.83 acres parcel of land on the north end of Ross Island to the City of Portland, plans for managing the property were announced in a Portland Parks & Recreation board meeting – held, of all places, on the west side in Multnomah Village.

PP&R’s David McAllister talked about the progress they were making – and some of the challenges they face – in developing a Ross Island Management Plan.

City owns land, but not shoreline
McAllister noted that the donated land parcel excludes the shoreline on the east side of the island, along the Holgate Channel, facing Inner Southeast Portland. “Another 15 acres of island land in the area is to be negotiated in good faith in the future, but there’s no guarantee.”

The northern tip of the island is owned by the Port of Portland. Ross Island Sand & Gravel owns a southern portion, and the waters inside the lagoon are owned by the State of Oregon, and are open for public use.

Endowment helps restoration
Along with the donation agreement, Pamplin included a $100,000 endowment to help with the city’s efforts to complete major wildland reclamation work by 2013. The endowment also passes the obligation to meet the reclamation requirement on to the City of Portland.

“We’ve done a vegetation survey of the property,” McAllister said. “It is in severely degraded condition, and overrun with invasive species. In spite of its condition, it is being used by nesting birds.”

Dredge mining was discontinued in 2000, and an objective of the reclamation plan is to improve endangered species’ fish habitat, explained McAllister. “Fish can spend some time in the lagoon before they out-migrate.”

McAllister explains the bureau’s efforts to create a Ross Island Management Plan to the PP&R board members.

Four commitments outlined
The Parks official said they’ve developed four main commitments in the Ross Island Management Plan:

  • Develop a habitat plan for City-owned property;
  • Manage the island property as a natural area;
  • Control the invasive species and restore habitat in the island; and
  • Manage the habitat.

“We have no other total-water access parks,” McAllister mentioned. “The Parks Bureau didn’t own a boat; we had to buy one.”

Look, but don’t touch
If you’ve dreamed of motor boating to Ross Island to enjoying a picnic lunch, with the Portland skyline as your backdrop – this will never become a reality, we learned.

“A restriction [in the plan] is NO public use,” stated McAllister. “We want people to love the island, but not ‘love it to death’. But we are looking at ways of providing information access, in a limited way, for environmental education.”

This past October, the Parks Bureau started developing an agreement with the Multnomah County Sheriff’s Office to enforce the policy of keeping citizens from coming ashore on this City park. “We’re developing signs, to let people know it’s off limits.”

Motor boats to be banned
“We’re also working on a ‘No Wake’ proposal,” McAllister continued. “We want to reduce all of the high power watercraft in the Holgate Channel. This will reduce wildlife disturbance and soil erosion, and provide a pleasant place for people to recreate.”

In addition to the “No Wake” demarcation, the bureau hopes to enlist the aid of groups like Willamette Riverkeepers and the Portland Audubon Society to propose a ban of ALL motorized watercraft in the lagoon to the Oregon State Marine Board. Citizens will be allowed to “experience the lagoon” in a kayak or rowboat.

This map shows the portion of Ross Island now owned by the City of Portland that you may view – from shore – but not touch.

Short term steps
“We’re using the endowment to work with the Bureau of Environmental Services on a re-vegetation plan,” McAllister explained. “First, we’ll remove the invasive species. After a couple of years, we’ll replant the area with native plants, then make sure they take hold.”

The next step, he said, is to develop a management plan. “The plan will be created with pubic involvement, and will emphasize the visual nature of the island,” said McAllister. “We will develop was of providing access, but not like people may think. We will encourage participation, but without actually being on the site.”

© 2009 David F. Ashton ~ East Portland News

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