Sandy River Delta

I recently had the pleasure of creating a 3D map of the Sandy River Delta. This 1,500 acre area lies along the southern shore of the Columbia River and is situated between the western extent of the Columbia Gorge National Scenic Area and the eastern edge of the Portland Metropolitan Area.

Today, the Delta is an easily accessible recreational area catering to nature lovers. However, the Delta’s history is a fascinating one, marked by severe environmental degradation and a remarkable story of ecological revival.

Formation: Birth of the Delta Landform

This fertile landform is the product of both past and present natural forces. Significant sediment deposition occurred during the Old Maid and Timberline eruptive periods as lahars originating on the slopes Mt. Hood flowed down the Sandy River to the Columbia (Pierson, Scott, Vallance, & Pringle, 2009). Ongoing sediment deposition occurs from the natural processes of the Sandy River and overbank flood deposits from the Columbia River.

Alteration: Paradise Lost

Historically, the Delta was a wooded, riparian wetland providing habitat for salmonoids, waterfowl, herptiles, and other wildlife (Kelly, 2002). The area was altered extensively throughout the 1900s.

In 1931, the East Channel of the Sandy River was dammed to increase fish runs. While intentions were good, the dam ultimately reduced habitat for juvenile salmon and steelhead by destroying the extensively braided shallow-water habitat in the East Channel and impairing backwater habitat throughout the Delta (U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, 2013).

In 1948, the Vanport Flood tore through the area and leveled its woodlands. With the trees gone, people moved in, using the land for farming and grazing.

In the 1950s, agricultural activities came to a halt when fluoride contamination produced by a nearby aluminum plant sickened residents and killed livestock.

Ultimately, the Delta’s vibrant natural ecosystem was severely degraded. Water courses were altered, wetland areas were drained, native vegetation was stripped away, and invasive plants infested the landscape.

Restoration: Return to the Natural Order

In 1991, the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) acquired 1,400 acres of the Delta and began the process of restoring it. Invasive plants have been removed and more than one million trees have been planted. In 2013, the Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) removed the dam and restored the East Channel.

Today, the Delta is again a thriving natural ecosystem thanks to the collaborative work of USFS, USACE, the Oregon Dept. of Forestry, the Bonneville Power Administration (BPA), the Trust for Public Lands, Ducks Unlimited, Ash Creek Management, Friends of Trees, the Sandy River Basin Watershed Council, the Lower Columbia Estuary Partnership, Columbia Land Trust, Columbia Riverkeeper, Project YESS, SOLVE, Trees of the Gorge, and hundreds of volunteers.

Map Production

I envisioned this map from an interpretive design perspective. I wanted to focus on the area in its present form and utility to reveal how restoration efforts have created a flourishing natural area that benefits both wildlife and recreationists.

Artistically, my main objective was to create symbols and styles that not only stand out on aerial imagery, but also look nice. Aerial imagery is an incredible resource. However, mapping with it presents challenges, as it can be difficult to create contrast without using bright, neon colors. Extremely vibrant colors can be beautiful in some mapping situations, but are often difficult to pair with true color imagery.

I created two versions of the map, one viewing the Delta from the north and another viewing the area from the south. Personally, I like the version that depicts the Delta from the mouth of the Sandy River (looking inland). However, I believe the version that depicts the delta from inland and looking toward the Columbia River may be easier for recreationists to interpret given the location of the parking lot (the starting point of the trail network).

Thanks for reading!