* Protection of places important for aesthetic, ecological, and cultural values has been a goal of conservationists for over 150 years. Cornerstones of place-based conservation include legal designations, international agreements, and purchases by public or non-profit organizations. * In the Salmon River catchment, Oregon, protections were initially developed in the 1930s for the freshwater riparian corridor and forestry research in the uplands. Over time, additional protections in the estuary and nearshore marine environments were added, motivated by local desire to protect and restore habitats and fish populations. * Removal of three levees in the Salmon River estuary occurred over three consecutive 9-year time-steps and provided the opportunity for research on tidal marsh recovery in the framework of a space-for-time chrono-series. Elevation, channel morphology, and vegetation all exhibited trajectories toward reference conditions. Fish and macroinvertebrates also served as indicators of tidal marsh recovery, although their recovery patterns were not strictly related to the chrono-series trajectories. The extent of restoration provided a novel opportunity to measure a significant response of biotic indicators at the site and catchment scales. * Salt marsh restoration augmented protected freshwater habitats by expanding rearing habitats for juvenile salmonids and increasing expression of life-history diversity for both Chinook and coho salmon. This finding highlights linkages between freshwater and marine habitats and populations and has the potential to influence important policy advances and changes in the management of Pacific salmon. * Restoration promoted collaborations among stakeholders, community involvement, and inspiring educational opportunities that enabled more comprehensive research than any single sponsor could have accomplished. * Protected status designations have fostered a wealth of opportunities that were not specifically envisioned when the protections were first put in place. In particular, dedicated scientific investigation of landscape-scale change did not occur by design but was pieced together as funding opportunities arose over time. Copyright © 2016 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.