Restoration as a lesson in patience

Mar 10, 2011
This past weekend I visited Camp Polk Meadow Preserve on a chilly afternoon. The Preserve seemed to be sleeping, no buds or blooms or shoots calling out spring...


This past weekend I visited Camp Polk Meadow Preserve on a chilly afternoon. The Preserve seemed to be sleeping, no buds or blooms or shoots calling out spring. And except for a few juncos and jays, no birdsong even.  Looking down over the willows of the Upper Meadow, I began to think hard about how much change I have seen at this Preserve since my first visit in 2002. 

The rehabilitation of Camp Polk Meadow requires a lot of slow, patient effort. One of the first results can be seen in these hundreds of willows below me, plants now thriving in the damp soil where water from Hindman Springs flows below the meadow grass toward Whychus Creek. It is difficult to associate these healthy shrubs with my memory of the scrawny shoots that were first planted here and protected with wire. A lot of labor to get them started, but a big payoff.

Now, of course, the Land Trust and the Watershed Council are working on something much bigger—the re-meandering of the creek from its straight channel of the past three decades. This project is the most long-term effort I have ever been close to. I remember the first bulldozers two years ago, seemingly a force for destruction, the piles of rocks getting higher and their dusty tracks despoiling the meadows.  But as the many new plants grow and the water flows more and more the Preserve is recovering from the initial shock and developing new life opportunities. 

My part in this effort is primarily running the bird survey program. But once or twice a year I get dirty with other volunteers. Some years we sweated under a hot May sun pulling invasive weeds. Last October we planted sedges and willows along the banks of the new channel as rain and snow fell down on us. But mostly I count birds and record the data that other volunteers collect. Data that some day will tell us the impact of all this change on different bird species and therefore on the diversity of the habitat itself.

Volunteers help plant native plants along the restored Whychus Creek channel at Camp Polk Meadow Preserve. Photo: Eva Eagle.
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Volunteers help plant native plants along the restored Whychus Creek channel at Camp Polk Meadow Preserve. Photo: Eva Eagle.

It is all very slow, but I am no longer impatient about it. The slow pace of Nature leaves us a lot of time in which to enjoy the journey. When I do my own surveys I make a special point to see how ‘my’ plants are doing where we planted last fall. Sometimes I may take the time to check on the beavers of the lower preserve, who are helping to create wetlands where before we had much drier territory. And just today I got a report from one surveyor who told me that he saw bufflehead ducks in the lower meadow area, indicating that these marvelous ‘toy ducks’ are beginning to use the new channel, birds that we had not seen at the Preserve until last fall.    

As the years go by, it will be fun to see how it all works out. What other new bird species will show up? When will the plants be strong enough to filter a redirected creek? Will the reintroduced fish be able to spawn here? Will the shorebirds breed in greater numbers? What will the beavers do about the change? Will the ouzels find another spot when the swiftly flowing stream spreads out onto the meadow through the new channel? I look forward to seeing how it all works out. And enjoying all of the changes along the way.