Railroad Island

Why It’s Important

Railroad Island is a dynamic floodplain property in the Willamette River. It’s network of side channels, floodplain forest, gravel bars, and backwater sloughs provide outstanding habitat for native salmon and other wildlife.

Dynamic Future for New Acquisition

What does a living river mean to you?

To Wayne and Pam Swango, whose family has roots along the Willamette River going back to the 1800s, a living river is a vital source, providing abundant clean water and rich, well-drained soil that’s perfect for raising sheep and grass seed. It’s also a river that takes whatever it wants.

“It can be a challenge,” Wayne Swango says. “We’ve lost some sheep that were stranded in high water. And part of our property is eroding – the river gives and takes whatever it wants to.”

It was partly this recognition of the river as a powerful, dynamic force that motivated the Swangos to sell the 63-acre Railroad Island to the McKenzie River Trust.

Wildlife on the property

Railroad Island, named after the railroad bridge that crosses the land’s downstream end, is exceptional habitat for native fish and wildlife. With a network of complex gravel bars, side channels, and sloughs on the mainstem Willamette, Railroad Island is a refuge for Chinook salmon, steelhead, and migratory birds. As a natural area, the Island can also absorb high flows and lessen the impact of floodwaters. Without the help of private landowners like the Swangos, these types of habitat are threatened to not last into the future.

A network of Willamette River conservation lands

The purchase of Railroad Island extends the McKenzie River Trust’s conservation lands in the upper Willamette River basin. The property is several miles downstream of Green Island, a 1,000+ acre complex of fish and wildlife habitat that MRT has been restoring since 2005.

In recent years, partners across Oregon have worked together to promote conservation along the Willamette. The statewide focus on the river in our own backyard helped attract the Meyer Memorial Trust to award a grant for pre-acquisition costs through their Willamette River Initiative. The Bonneville Power Administration contributed the additional funds for MRT to buy Railroad Island.

Many times, our accomplishments as a land trust are measured in the number of acres protected. But for Railroad Island, that may not be the best measure of success. “Railroad Island is a place for fish and wildlife where the dynamic river can move around without causing harm or loss of livelihood,” says Nicole Nielsen-Pincus, MRT’s Willamette Program Manager. “Gravel bars and floodplain forests provide a buffer from where people are trying to live or farm. That’s part of what makes this such a great conservation project.”

Key Facts

  • Size: 63 acres
  • Location: In the Willamette River – downstream of Green Island, near Harrisburg
  • Acquired in: September 2012
  • How it was protected: The McKenzie River Trust purchased the property from the Swango family in fee title with the support of the Bonneville Power Administration and Meyer Memorial Trust.

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