A Confluence of Water, Habitat and Healing 

The Fernhill complex sits along the southern edge of Forest Grove—located 25 miles west of Portland—between Clean Water Services water treatment plant, the Tualatin River and Gales Creek. It includes more than 750 acres of wetlands, uplands, forests and productive farmlands, as well as a cutting-edge natural treatment system. Though the site has been a big draw for nature enthusiasts for more than 20 years, over the last five years a major transformation has been underway.

The Forest Grove wastewater treatment plant and the associated lagoons have been managed by Clean Water Services (CWS) since the 1970s; the natural areas since 2000; the Fernhill Water Garden since 2012; and large-scale natural treatment since 2014. Adjoining agricultural lands are leased to local farmers and irrigated with recycled water supplied by CWS.  Since the late 1990s, Clean Water Services has convened the major stakeholders, including the City of Forest Grove, Fernhill Wetlands Council, Audubon Society of Portland, Pacific University and community members, toward a cooperative management approach to this diverse and special place. 

The Site

First planting: 2006
Size: 292 acres
Stream length:  15,985 feet
Total to date:  1,361,131 plants
Plant communities: Emergent Marsh, Forested Wetland, Riparian Forest, Scrub Shrub


The Challenge

The complexity of the challenge—and the richness of the opportunity—is the site’s role in water resources management for the entire Tualatin Watershed. Over the last several decades, Washington County has enjoyed a growing economy and strong population growth. Technology, health and other business sectors continue to prosper. As people move to the area for jobs and the high quality of life, the region’s water treatment capacity needs also increase. The community had to figure out how to significantly increase treatment capacity while keeping costs down and amplifying the investments made in water treatment for broader ecological gain. 


The Transformation


Through a collaborative process, Clean Water Services, the City of Forest Grove and many community stakeholders found a way to serve both people and wildlife with a positive outcome for watershed health.

Areas surrounding the natural treatment system are being enhanced with native trees, shrubs, and understory herbaceous species to enhance water quality, along with habitat diversity and function. The former treatment lagoons were transformed from rip-rapped ponds into an aesthetically-beautiful, dynamic Natural Treatment System that filters water through 90 acres of native wetland plants, cooling and cleansing the water, while also providing valuable habitat for wildlife. The wetlands were designed with habitat features that maximize treatment capability while bringing greater bird and wildlife diversity to the wetland complex. Working with the local birding community, the Audubon Society of Portland has led a community science effort at this site over the past several years to monitor bird response to the recent restoration.  Preliminary findings indicate that the abundance of some wetland-dependent species like Virginia Rail and Sora has increased dramatically.

Fernhill now provides research and study opportunities for innovations in water recovery and renewal, environmental education for local schools and underserved populations, and the chance for ongoing development of programs of interest to the community. The facilities are available year-round for recreation, relaxation and peaceful respite. On any given day, you might see a group of schoolchildren chattering excitedly about native frogs, birdwatchers studying a vibrant flock of shorebirds, or a family taking in the view from the graceful bridges of the Water Garden. Designed by Hoichi Kurisu, a world-renowned creator of healing gardens, the Water Garden provides a lush and tranquil setting for people to reconnect with nature.

Already a premier destination for outdoor and nature enthusiasts, Fernhill is a model for collaboration with amazing results for people and wildlife. 

This Fernhill profile covers a series of interconnected projects.
View project-by-project statistics.

Learn More

Explore Fernhill at fernhillnts.org.

View a short video: Wellness Walks at Fernhill

View an infographic depicting the preliminary results of community science efforts at Fernhill.

Read about education at Fernhill on page 4 of the Jan-Feb 2019 Audubon Warbler