Talking Water Gardens is waiting for you

By Molly Miller

Would you like to stretch your legs, inhale fresh air and walk in solitude as lush greenery and fall colors surround you?

I have the spot for you.

Talking Water Gardens offers solitude on warm fall days. Most of the vegetation is comprised of native plants. Photo by Molly Miller

Late summer and early fall is a great time to get outside and enjoy all of those things, and what better place to experience them than Talking Water Gardens in Albany.

Social distancing? Two miles of soft bark and light gravel footpaths offer plenty of room to safely stroll amid rainbow colors of seasonal foliage and the peaceful sound of cascading waterfalls.

Talking Water Gardens is a manufactured wetland that uses a natural process to cool treated wastewater before releasing it into the Willamette River. The water flows through a series of ponds and waterfalls, creating a wonderfully lush environment. Families come. Singles or couples wander. Birders stroll, stop, stroll. Actually “stroll and stop” is the most observed way of exploring in the park.

Most of the trails are wheelchair accessible. Pets are allowed on leashes.

While salmon and steelhead benefit from the cooler water that the wetland provides, people and wildlife find other rewards. Walk through the gates and you find that electronics do not hold sway. In their place are birds calling, water rushing and cattails whispering with the wind.

This is where you can turn your face to the sky and your feet to the gentle path and take in some of the unusual details of the area. The path leads walkers to one such detail alongside a canal that follows the length of the Weeping Wall, the former loading dock of the Simpson plywood mill that previously occupied this land. During warmer months when the area is running at full capacity, water cascades over the wall into the canal.

The Weeping Wall, exposed during a low-water cycle, and canal.
Photo by Molly Miller

The summer season, with its higher temperatures, requires cooler water be delivered to the Willamette, so the ponds will be full.

Winter allows time for maintenance, cleaning, repair and replanting of vegetation. At this time a visitor will often see some drained ponds or waterways, and the Weeping Wall might be dry, revealing the old mill’s loading dock.

Beaver, mink, turtles, frogs, migrating ducks and hundreds of species of birds of different colors join the mostly native plant species inside the wetland.

“We work to ensure that as many plants native to Oregon are used in our natural treatment systems,” said Joe Deardorff, the Natural Treatment Systems Specialist for the City of Albany Public Works.

While Deardorff’s current focus is ensuring native vegetation renewal, his work includes an understanding of both plants and wildlife and how they interact in the environment. He is familiar with the inhabitants that make their home within the wetland.

“Beavers do live in the park,” says Deardorff, who added that although beaver dams are not easily visible to visitors, gnawing marks on trees give clues of beaver being present.

Gnawed tree stumps are a beaver’s calling card.
Photo by Molly Miller

Although beavers, being more nocturnal, are elusive, plenty of sunning turtles and jumping frogs are viewable in the summer and early fall. Repeat visitors can watch baby ducks grow in increments over the spring and summer. Bird calls, which can be identified by apps, are heard on the trails at all times of the year.

Adventurers of all ages – whether they be locals or people from around the state, the country or the world – are drawn to this area, including tech professionals from other countries who want to replicate a similar model.

Roughly 60,000 visitors visit Talking Water Garden yearly. It is open daily, sunrise to sunset, so please come and add your footprint to this path of nature and sustainability!

If You Go

For more about Talking Water Gardens, located at 577 Waverly Dr. NE, in Albany, click here. It is free and open to the public 7 days a week, sunrise to sunset. To get there, follow Front Avenue east past the Albany Millersburg Water Reclamation Facility until it turns into Waverly Drive, which dead ends at Talking Water.

Molly Miller is a freelance writer who loves to share travel and history adventures in Oregon.

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