A Hidden Preserve: West Linn, OR

Photo by Mary Charlebois

You won’t just stumble upon Camassia Natural Area. You need to know the way. Tucked between two neighborhoods, a high school and Interstate 205, are 26 acres of exceptional ecological diversity and geological formations. In 1962, this area was The Nature Conservancy’s first Oregon protectorate. Located in West Linn above the Willamette River and the end of the Oregon Trail, this serene preserve sits in the middle of city life.

Paths and boardwalks meander through woodlands, across meadows, past small ponds and over seasonal wetlands. Wildflower fields are spectacular in spring. Year-round, more than 400 plant species tint the landscape.

Camassia Natural Area is a rocky plateau formed millennia ago by flooding. Its namesake, the camas (common camas lily), was once a plentiful food source for native peoples of Canada and the Western U. S. Bulbs were harvested in fall and stored for winter meals. As Europeans moved west, much of the camas habitat was destroyed for farming.

In April and May, the purple camas joins other native species in an assembly of color. White rock larkspur, rosy plectritis, blue-eyed Mary, buttercups, western trillium, saxifrage, fawn lilies and camas are benefitting from the removal of English ivy once planted by homeowners.

The white larkspur is a rare Willamette Valley species. It occurs in only six other locations worldwide.

Camassia is a work in progress. Volunteers, researchers, ecologists and nearby high school students are laboring to restore the surroundings to their natural condition.

Oregon white oak, madrone and quaking aspen woodlands are returning with the removal of invasive Douglas fir. Eradicating non-native species like Himalayan blackberries and Scots broom, restoring hydrology and monitoring water quality are returning the preserve to its original state. Plants, trees and wetlands are habitats for several bird species. When you visit, bring your field glasses and view California quail, bluebirds, wood ducks, woodpeckers and golden-crowned kinglets, among many.

The preserve is open to the public year-round from dawn till dusk. Check westlinnoregon.gov/parksrec/camassia-nature-preserve for directions and information about visiting the preserve and docent-led hikes. Visit The Nature Conservancy’s website at nature.org/en-us/get-involved/how-tohelp/places-we-protect/camassia-natural-area.