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In Its Place: Land Trust is putting Whychus Creek back where it belongs 

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Monday, March 23rd was a big day for the Land Trust's Camp Polk Preserve; tour leaders and docents met at the preserve to learn the details of the restoration of Whychus Creek, a project that will be kicking into high gear this spring and summer. Crews are slated to begin breaking ground to restore the historical meandering creek channel, after which the meadow will be hopping with activity throughout the summer and fall.

Back in 1964, over Christmas time, Whychus, then known as Squaw Creek, went on a rampage when lots of warm rain fell on a wet snow-pack resulting in the creek going over its banks, flooding Sisters, killing 7 people and costing around $157 million to repair the damages.

Needless to say, that got a lot of people upset and as the saying goes; the "stuff" hit the fan. The "government had to do something!" In those dark ages, fish habitat, stream health and riparian zones were terms very few people understood, or cared about. Like old growth forests that would be around "fo-ever," "fish would be forever as well, so the Powers-That-Be said, 'Lets fix that creek so it won't flood no more!'"


The following year, the US Army Corps of Engineers, in a well-meaning effort to get the creek out of town as fast as possible and "correct" the Camp Polk Flood Plain, eliminated the natural meandering route by channelizing Whychus Creek, an act that turned it into a virtual fire hose. As a result, fish habitat was destroyed, the meadow dried out, along with much of the stream-side vegetation (riparian zone), which in turn destroyed the general health and beauty of the creek.

Now - in a colossal and costly effort - the Land Trust, Upper Deschutes Watershed Council and other partners are planning to restore the health, fish habitat, wildlife values and beauty of Whychus Creek. (The projected creek bed restoration project as pictured was mapped out from historical aerial photos taken in 1941 and other sources.)

The special restoration tour on March 23rd was led by Ryan Houston, executive director of the Upper Deschutes Watershed Council, and Amanda Egertson, steward director. Together they presented an update on the project and let everyone know how and when it will move forward.

As coordinator of the tour leaders, Sarah Mowry, Land Trust Outreach Manager, said to the participants, "It is imperative that we catch you all up on the restoration project plans and schedule, as it will impact your efforts to utilize the preserve on your bird counts, guided tours and other volunteer projects."

According to Houston and Edgetson, the restoration project will begin in May of this year and be completed by summer of 2012. The 2009 phase will commence with almost 5,000 feet of 6" irrigation pipe laid out across the meadow, following the old creek bed. A fish screen will be installed in the temporary irrigation pipe upstream of the meadow. Where the pipe crosses the historical meanderings a valve will be opened to begin soaking the meadow prior to reconstructing the creek bed.

Volunteers will be pulling weeds often in an effort to eliminate the many invasive plant species now present in the meadow. On May 13th, from 10am to noon, the Land Trust will offer another tour for those wanting to witness the restoration project and learn more about it in detail.

Once the actual excavating begins in June no one- not even guided tours - will be allowed near that phase of the project for safety considerations. The last thing the equipment operators need is to have someone suddenly appear in front of their bulldozer.

"And this is especially true for those who have been visiting the preserve with dogs and allowing them to run loose." Amanda added, "all dogs must be on a leash, and they are not allowed in the meadow at all."

By July of this year, the reconstructed creek bed should be completed and the alien plants removal well underway. The irrigation line will continue soaking the meadow over the new stream bed and fencing will be put up to keep deer out of the native plantings that will be introduced in the re-hydrated meadow.

All the plantings will require a huge volunteer work force, so if you want to pitch in, please call the Land Trust office (www.deschuteslandtrust.org) at 330-0017 and let them know you want to take part in this exciting project. By October there will be a need to plant approximately 130,000 seedlings on the banks of the newly introduced creek bed.

If all goes as planned, work will continue into 2010-11 and the final introduction of Whychus into its historical bed will take place in 2012.

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