Go boating and bird-watching just minutes from downtown Portland

On this spring afternoon, pelting rain had scared away mostof those signed up for a guided paddle trip on north Portland'sSmith and Bybee Lakes Wildlife Area. But by the time our flotillaof two kayaks and one canoe put in, the rain had quit, and thelow-angled sun lent a golden sheen to Bybee Lake's unruffledsurface. The western painted turtles were hiding from the cold, butviolet-green and cliff swallows and great blue herons filled thesky. Mt. Saint Helens and Mt. Hood appeared in the east; in themiddle distance, just beyond the lake's edge, giant shipping cranesidled, silently awaiting the next load of cars, stereos, or HelloKitty dolls.

Surrounded by port terminals, warehouses, and other commercialdevelopment, Smith and Bybee Lakes Wildlife Area is an undevelopedgem in a city known for its urban wildlands. It's the largestprotected fresh-water wetland in any American city. And it'sperhaps 15 minutes from the center of Portland.

The easiest way to enjoy the lakes is on foot, but the best wayis by canoe or kayak (see right). Either way, go soon. An old damhas been replaced by a new water-control structure that will allowthe lakes' levels to fluctuate more naturally with the seasons,encouraging a diverse habitat for plants and animals. By latespring, the water may be too shallow for canoeing, and you'll haveto wait until fall.

More changes are in the works. By spring 2005, Metro (the agencythat manages the wildlife area) plans to have a new trailhead,canoe launch, and parking completed at Smith Lake. Anenvironmental-education shelter and other improvements are plannedas well. An unusual public art installation is already in place.Under an artist's direction, a helicopter was used to place fivegiant tree roots in the lakes. They provide new habitat for fishand fowl ― and more eye candy for urbanites seeking thesolace of wild things.

WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE

From I-5, take the Marine Dr. exit west and follow N. Marine Dr.2 1/2 miles to a parking lot on the left.

BY FOOT: Paved 3/4-mile Interlakes Trail loops out from atrailhead off N. Marine through woods to viewpoints at either lake.Metro occasionally offers free guided bird walks here.

BY BOAT: The put-in for canoes and kayaks (no motorboats areallowed) is in a slough off the trailhead described above. Paddlefor 5 or 10 minutes until you're under a power line; veer left, doa short portage, and you're in Bybee Lake, which connects to SmithLake without another portage. Explore on your own any day, or joina free guided trip, offered monthly (water level permitting) bymembers of Friends of Smith & Bybee Lakes; bring your ownboat.

INFO: For a list of upcoming guided walks and paddles, checkthe GreenScenecalendar or call Metro (503/797-1850). For information on paddletrips and a list of boat-rental shops, contact the Friends of Smith &Bybee Lakes.

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