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Port of St. Helens to blaze better trails

A grant from the Oregon Parks and Recreation Department is about to make the Scappoose Bay Marine Park even more visitor-friendly.

The Port of St. Helens announced that a $125,200 award from the Recreation Trails Program will allow the Port to rehabilitate the park as a prime recreational and educational destination.

The Port will also contribute $32,000 of its own funds toward a project that will repave the park’s nature trail, install a bridge at the trail’s entrance and promote a more natural water flow pattern through the addition of a culvert.

The Scappoose Bay Watershed Council worked with the Port during the grant application process, said the organization’s director Janelle St. Pierre. This partnership was an in-kind agreement between the Port and SBWC, one of the Port’s tenants. The Port reduces SBWC’s rent in exchange for the organization’s assistance with grant-writing and assistance in project development.

“It is the Port’s project,” St. Pierre said. “[SBWC] is very invested in the trail and we’ve done a lot of work on it, but this particular project is their project. We’re just trying to help out.”

The OPRD grant was announced in late October, but the upgrades will not be completed until 2013. According to SBWC guidelines, “in stream” projects have a narrow window of opportunity: Construction is recommended only between July 15 and Aug. 31.

Although the project’s primary focus is to improve the park’s ease of use, St. Pierre said it will also benefit the marine park’s ecosystem overall.

The culvert is expected to enhance what is already recognized as a major salmon corridor.

“Any of those wetland pockets are good potential habitats, especially for juvenile salmon, outside the main waterways,” St. Pierre explained.

Trail upgrades will also allow for more natural seasonal ebb and flow in water levels, she said.

“The trail has kind of an outer loop and an interior loop. With the outer loop next to the bay, when the water comes up (the trail) is often flooded,” said St. Pierre. “For the plant community on the other side of the trail, being flooded is good. So we want to both keep the trail a little bit dryer, and get more water flow into the plant communities that are used to being seasonally flooded.”

The dryer area will allow indigenous tree species like the Oregon white oak, cottonwood, ash and willow to thrive. At the same time, wetlands are expected to flourish nearby.

With so much variety in such a relatively small area, the trails make for an ideal outdoor classroom.

The upgrades will support public education programs, like the Lower Columbia Estuary Partnership’s outdoor classes for fourth-, fifth- and sixth-grade students from the Scappoose and St. Helens school districts. Lessons are designed to complement classroom curriculum and include service projects in nature areas and boating in the marina.

The Port aims to increase visibility of the shoreline and wildlife areas, giving the public more opportunities to view a variety of native birds, from the woodpecker to the green heron, as well as the occasional osprey or bald eagle, in their native environments.