Crossing the Ki-a-Kuts

Wild in the City

An excerpt from the book "Wild in the City - Exploring The Intertwine."

One of my favorite walking rambles is an early evening stroll between Cook Park and Tualatin's Hedge Creek Marsh. I always start this 3.3 mile walk by perusing the Cook Park wetlands, which paralell the soccer fields - on both sides of SW 92nd Avenue. The wetlands are remnants of what was once a much larger marsh system prior to construction of the sports fields. Still, they are home to birds and mammals you'd expect to see in the area — red-winged blackbirds, common yellowthroats, marsh wrens, great blue herons, and the occasional Virginia rail. Waterfowl common in winter include American wigeon, wood ducks, mallards, gadwall, and northern shoveler.

Cook Park is chock full of recretional facilities, along with convenient parking and restrooms. I start my walks at the east of the Nicoli Fields parking lot. The trail splits near the shelter just before you enter the butterfly meadows. if you take a left you'll pass by a native prairie restoration and wetland habitat area that is off limits to humans and dogs. This path takes you to a cul-de-sac parking area at the end of SW 85th Avenue. But to get to downtown Tualatin I take a right past the covered shelter number four and proceed through the butterfly garden. Signage is prominent, directing you along Fanno Creek Trail heading toward Durham Park, and the Ki-a-Kuts bicycle-pedestrian bridge that will take you over the Tualatin River, and into Tualatin Community Park and downtown Tualatin. But first, there's the beautifully landscaped Tupling Butterfly Garden just past the picnic shelter that has been planted in ceanothus, spirea, salal, Oregon grape, and other shrubs. The garden is dedicated to Kristen Ann Tupling, local naturalist and financial supporter of the gardens. 

Shortly past the butterfly garden, nice views of the Tualatin River are just to the right of the paved path as it curves to the left. I like to sit for a bit on a single bench, listening for the unique rattle of belted kingfishers, which I've seen on many occasions darting in and out of their nest cavity located high on the steep muddy banks across from the Cook Park boat ramp. I also keep an eye out for the elusive green herons that love thee Tualatin's brushy riparian shrubs.

Continuing to the east on the paved path, the route skirts the south side of the prairie restoration habitat, and dips under the railroad tracks. Just before the railroad tracks there's an excellent map that gives an overview of Cook Park and the surrounding terrain. After passing under the tracks a left takes you to Durham City Park but take a right, up the ramp onto Ki-a-Kuts Bridge over the Tualatin River. According to interpretive signs on the bridge, Ki-a-Kuts was a spokesman for the Atfalati band of the Kalapuya during early settlement days. The bridge, connecting Tualatin and Tigard, was dedicated in 2007 as a "bridge builder" not only between the two communities but also between two cultures. There are spectacular views of the Tualatin River from the bridge. You'll also see the Westside Express Service commuter train running parallel to the trail that connects Wilsonville to downtown Beaverton. Just across the bridge, I find the unpaved paths that parallel the Tualatin a nice alternative to the busier paved path. It also provides some good birding opportunities through the heavily forested riparian zone.

Once inside Tualatin Community Park there are several options to explore. First, on the left, just past the old, rusty-looking railroad bridge that spans the Tualatin River from east to west, is a large map, a "Paddler's Access Guide to the Tualatin River." The sign is located at the top of a steep ramp that provides access to the Tualatin for canoes and kayaks. The sign, installed by the Tualatin Riverkeepers, is at river mile 25.3, meaning you are twenty-five miles from the confluence of the Tualatin and Willamette Rivers at old West Linn's Willamette Park. The map provides information on paddling times to various points both upstream and downstream from Tualatin Community park.

Just past the children's play area, which has a cute river otter sculpture in the sandbox, is another interpretive sign that provieds information for self-guided walking tours to art, culture, and natural history of the city of Tualatin.

My favorite side loop, before returing to Cook Park, is the mile-and-a-half wetland and natural history walk to Sweek Pond, Hedges Marsh, and the Kaiser Permanente gardens on SW 92nd Avenue. From Tualatin Community Park I walk south to where SW Tualatin Road curves to the west 12, and then I head west on the sidewalk to the pedestrian crossing in front of the City of Tualatin Police Department, where I cross over to the Tualatin Heritage Center. If you walk behind the heritage center you'll see a gravel path that will take you on a loop around the Sweek Pond Natural Area. The gravel path doesn't show up on the official city interpretive signs, but it's the only way to get views of Sweek Pond.

Years ago this was all part of the Hedges Creek Marsh natural area, which has since been fragmented by development. Nonetheless, the pond is a nice postage stamp-sized wetland that's worth exploring on the Hedges Creek walk. I like to sit adjacent to the small interpretive sign and viewing area at the eastern end of the pond to check the pond for waterfowl, beaver, and songbirds in the riparian forest that rings the pond.

After completing the loop, I head south on the sidewalk to the paved path that starts the Hedges Creek Wetland loop. At the end of the large apartment complex an arched wooden bridge crosses Hedges Creek. The bridge is high enough that you get sweeping upstream and downstream views of the creek and its associated wetlands. Downstream, look for an old beaver dam.

Just across the scenic arched, wooded bridge is a large shopping center, complete with the omnipresent Starbucks, which can be pretty inviting on a bitterly cold winter day. After you stop for a hot hazelnut steamer, it's a less than aesthetic but direct route to the wetlands through the parking lot at the back of the shopping center. Walk up a short berm for excellent views of Hedges Creek Marsh. During winter you'll see lots of waterfowl including ring-necked ducks, northern shovelers, gadwall, bufflehead, hooded and common mergansers, and lesser scaup.

My next stop is the Kaiser Permanented Art and Sculpture Garden, just across SW 90th Avenue. As you enter the parking area, the stormwater wetland, though small and scrappy, is a good place to look for a great blue heron or green heron skulking about. In addition tio the art display, Kaiser has a wonderful little sculpture garden with birds, other animals, and palnts common to Hedges Creek Marsh. There are also views of the marsh from behind Kaiser's offices. Be sure to scan the wetland along SW 90th for herons.

Head back north on SW 90th Avenue. There are fabulous views of Hedges Creek Marsh on either side of the street. It's a short distance back to the Tualatin Heritage Center along SW Sweek Drive. From there I retrace my route back through Tualatin Community Park and the Ki-a-Kuts Bridge.

Editor's note: 

Learn more about restoration work and the wildlife at Hedges Creek Wetlands.

For more detailed explorations of The Intertwine including maps, essays, and recommended outings, pick up your copy of “Wild in the City - Exploring The Intertwine” at the Portland Audubon Society Nature Store.

 

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