November 15, 2011 - Sisters Nugget - Creek restoration in final phase

November 22, 2011
November 15, 2011 - Sisters Nugget - Creek restoration in final phase

Creek restoration in final phase

Whychus Creek will soon be back where it belongs: meandering through Camp Polk Meadow Preserve.

The creek, once straightened by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, has been undergoing a restoration project started in 2005 to re-create a more natural, meandering course through the meadow.

Last week, Amanda Egertson, stewardship director for the Deschutes Land Trust, met with Forest Service fisheries biologist Paul Powers and USFS hydrologist Cari Press in Camp Polk Meadow to check final plans and actions for introducing Whychus Creek to its old/new home in March.

New meandering side-channels were being cut by a variety of earth-moving equipment hauling soil and stockpiling to refill the firehose channel the creek now races through.

Long before the design for the restoration was finalized, Egertson and Ryan Houston of the Upper Deschutes Watershed Council canvassed the immediate neighbors of the old Camp Polk Meadow, consulting with homeowners about the long-term activities necessary to restore Whychus Creek to its old course through the meadow.

"The support we received from our neighbors was amazing," Egertson said. "Everyone was able to see the long-term goals." According to Amanda, that's the way the restoration project has been from the beginning, in her words, "a community project."

Ryan Houston thinks the cost for the equipment on the job is running close to $400,000 - but doesn't like separating the pieces of what is a very complex project that will probably end up around $2 million before it's done. There have been more than 16 pieces of equipment in the meadow, tearing out topsoil that has grown into the old creek meanderings when it was drained and used for cattle grazing over the years.

As the new channels are being dug, the equipment often turns up one of the ancient meanderings of the old channels, and relic trees buried by subsequent flooding.

"The whole meadow has been full of invasive weeds," Egertson said, waving her hands over the ground that was drained to create grazing land. "Since the project began in 2005, we've planted close 200,000 native riparian pants and broadcast several hundred pounds of native seed to prepare the meadow for the new course of Whychus Creek."

"Before the creek was turned into a fire hose after the 1964 flood," fisheries biologist Paul Powers said, "these loamy soils absorbed and held a lot of water during high-flow periods, that in turn allowed a long, delayed summer release of ground-cooled water back into the creek - it will be like that again when we turn on the water next March."

Bulldozers and excavators will be on site for the next two weeks, putting the final touches on the restored Whychus Creek channel. Crews will be carving side-channels, removing access roads, and stockpiling the more than 5,000 cubic yards of material that will plug the existing channel.

The Forest Service has provided over 1,600 trees for the project - complete with root ball and limbs - that will be placed in the new channels prior to flooding for rebuilding fish habitat.

Standing watching the earth-moving equipment trundling through and over the ancient meadow, Egertson said, "When I thought about restoration in a conceptual way, I envisioned an improved ecological system - I didn't think about all the construction necessary to get to the end goal. Then I saw heavy equipment rolling through the meadow and it was a bit overwhelming.

"But now that a few years have passed and the plants we put in are maturing, I can really start to see the end picture evolving. I can see why the heavy disturbances were necessary, and now I'm eager for that day when the creek will be allowed to run its old course, rebuilding fish habitat and creating more life and diversity in the meadow."

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