Albany, Oregon's Talking Water Gardens
By Kurt Jacobson
The last place I thought I’d be going for a nature walk was a water reclamation facility.
Thoughts of stinky brown water filled my head, but the local visitor’s center assured me this would be good clean fun. This water reclamation facility was once a lumber mill is now part of Albany and Millersburg, Oregon’s Talking Water Gardens.
Situated near the banks of Oregon's famous Willamette River is this fifty-acre site costing around $14 million to build. Opened in July of 2012, the gardens have welcomed thousands of visitors seeking a peaceful natural place to walk. Some five million gallons of water flow through a series of streams and rock waterfalls; attracting more than just human visitors.
All year long dozens of species migrate through or live year round in this natural world. Autumn, spring, and winter seem to be the best time to view migratory waterfowl heading north or south. A host of other wildlife can also be seen at the Talking Water Gardens.
It doesn't stink
There are mink, otters, turtles, frogs, nutria, and birds of prey, and great blue herons to name a few. They all come to this clean and not stinking water world.
Take a pair of binoculars or a spotting scope to see turtles basking in the sun, or mink prowling the water’s edge seeking a meal. Look high above for circling turkey vultures or hawks surveying the landscape for hapless prey.
Visitors and locals come to enjoy the vision landscape architect Hoichi Kurisu had when he looked at this former site of the Edwards Lumber Mill and Simpson Timber Mill. Mr. Kurisu transformed this industrial wasteland and gravel parking lot into a unique park.
The name, Talking Water Gardens is taken from the sound of water tumbling over rock waterfalls throughout the park. If you make your way to the north end of the park look for the “Weeping Wall”.
This former concrete loading dock is one of the more interesting water features as water. The dock has been transformed into a long rectangular pond slowly discharging its water into the creek system.
After two days of flowing through the park, water is safely discharged into the Willamette River where it continues its journey to the Pacific Ocean.
Up to 5 million gallons of treated water can flow through this labyrinth, dropping 2 degrees Fahrenheit.
Before the cleansed water leaves the park it hosts a whole lot of wildlife. Birding is one of the most popular activities drawing bird watchers from near and far.
Ducks are common and on the day I visited many could be seen on a pond covered in... duckweed. On any given day in spring and fall, dozens of other bird species can be spotted. One of my favorites was the kingfisher that darted by searching for a fishy treat.
For your visit
Plan on taking an hour or so to slowly walk the park. The trails are suitable for baby strollers and wheelchairs. Bringing a picnic lunch is a good idea in fair weather to continue the wildlife experience.
For travelers on Interstate 5, this is a great place to take a break from the road and stretch your legs. The park is less than five minutes from exit 234 and has porta-potties if needed.
There are two lakes near the parking lot with straightforward names: First Lake and Second Lake. A boat ramp is available at Bowman Park at the end of Geary Street some five blocks away. This ramp provides access to the Willamette River for boating and fishing. Rumor has it there is decent bass fishing in this stretch of river.
To find the parking lot and trails set your GPS to 500 Waverly Drive N.E. in Millersburg. This location is just east of Albany’s city limits. When you see the Simpson Park entrance you’ve made it. If you have time be sure and head into downtown Albany to see the historic carousel, Novak’s Hungarian restaurant, and the rest of this pedestrian-friendly downtown.
When I stopped for a walk in the Talking Water Gardens my wife and I were on a tight schedule and could only spend an hour.
It just goes to show you can’t judge a book by its cover. This extension of a water treatment plant was a pleasant surprise and worth a second visit.
Next time I’ll be sure to bring binoculars and have at least an hour and a half to get the most out of this wildlife viewing maze of water. There aren’t many places with easy access where so many species of wildlife can be easily viewed. And you can’t beat the price.
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Kurt Jacobson lives in Baltimore, Maryland, and spent many years as a professional chef. Now he travels the world and shares his stories here and on other travel websites.