Ramblin’ Down By The Slough 2: Electric Boogaloo

Over the course of the last week, I’ve found myself down near the Columbia Slough, the meandering waterway on the Columbia floodplain just south of the main stem of the river, twice. Of course, I’m pretty much always near the Slough, as my house is less than a mile from this mini-river. But despite this, I don’t go down to the Slough as much as I should. This is a shame, as the Columbia Slough has many hidden charms and wonders.

The first time I headed towards the Slough was on Tuesday July 22, the day I met Robert/Spiral Cage out in the Gorge. Wanting a bit of a ride, I meandered near the Slough for the whole way out to Troutdale. On the way through the Cully neighborhood I found a “new” bike path that followed the right of way of NE 70th Avenue north of Alberta St for a few blocks. The Cully is a treasure-trove of unimproved streets and secret cut-throughs, but this path looked freshly paved and official.

From there I followed NE Sandy for a bit. Sandy out east of Parkrose has little to recommend as a bike route, besides it being flat and direct. (It does have a bike lane, but it’s fairly narrow and choked with debris.) So I rarely ride out that way. But when you ride through unfamiliar territory, you might get rewarded with a new discovery. And I was: I found the Wilkes Creek Natural Area off Sandy and just west of NE 158th. The east side of Portland has very few extant natural streams, as most of them have been paved over. To find one of them is a big deal to me, no matter how minor they may be. And the “daylighted” portion of Wilkes Creek is pretty minor, maybe about 1/3 of a mile in length and tiny in width. It’s still nice, though, and I’m glad they managed to preserve a little bit of natural area around it.

Later in the week, on Saturday, I found myself heading down to the Columbia to watch the sun set. On the way from my house in the Woodlawn neighborhood in NE I took the back way through the industrial what-not along NE Columbia Blvd. This is where I found a newish bike path running along a side channel of the Columbia Slough, just east of NE 21st Avenue and south of NE Elrod St. There’s been plans of building a path following the slough, and over the years the city has built parts of it here and there, most of it west of NE MLK. It will probably be decades before we see a contiguous path from the Columbia Slough’s source at Blue Lake in Fairview to its mouth near the confluence of the Willamette and Columbia Rivers. (That is, if we see a contiguous path.) For now, we’ll have to be satisfied with a little bit here, a little bit there. I don’t remember hearing anything about the opening of this particular section of path, but why would I? It’s hemmed in by industry and golf courses, and really doesn’t lead anywhere (yet.)

All of this reminds me that to really explore the Columbia Slough, I need some sort of floating transportation, be it a canoe or kayak. The lower Slough (just west of 21st) is free flowing into the Willamette/Columbia, while the upper slough have a few “dams” that require portaging. So it’s navigable the whole way up to the lake. One of these days, I’ll do it!

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