The Deschutes Land Trust's Campaign for Whychus Creek continued to gain momentum last Saturday with the dedication of newly acquired acreage that more than doubles the size of its Whychus Canyon Preserve. The addition, which was actually acquired last fall, is the product of several years of planning and negotiations.
More than 100 guests attended Saturday's ceremony in what will be one of the last public opportunities to view the area prior to restoration activities set to begin next year. However, it is anticipated that some free, guided tours of the area will be offered later this year.
Brad Chalfant, executive director of the Land Trust and chief architect of the Land Trust's long-range plans, was "thrilled to dedicate this new portion of Whychus Canyon Preserve....This new part of Whychus Canyon Preserve is a significant step in completing our key acquisitions along Whychus Creek."
Deschutes Land Trust's ambitious campaign for Whychus Creek has set a goal to protect the stream and its extensive wildlife habitat. Acquisition of this 480-acre property completes a continuous six-mile stretch of the local stream that is now permanently under the protective umbrella of Deschutes Land Trust.
Funding for the new preserve came from the Oregon Watershed Enhancement Board, Pelton-Round Butte Mitigation Fund, Ann & Bill Swindells Charitable Trust, James H. Stanard Foundation, Laird Norton Family Foundation, The Roundhouse Foundation, and other members and individual contributors.
At the upstream end, the new addition abuts the Land Trust's 2011 acquisition that initially created the Whychus Canyon Preserve. Downstream, the property nestles against Rimrock Ranch, where the owners have granted a permanent conservation easement to the Land Trust, thus completing the six-mile protected stream segment.
Much of Whychus Creek was channelized in the 1960s to control flooding and create farm land. In the process, many miles of fish and wildlife habitat were destroyed. Restoring the creek's floodplain to its natural meanders and wetlands is a much more difficult - and expensive - process than the initial destruction.
In a massive restoration project that drew national attention, the Land Trust previously restored the original stream flow at its upstream Camp Polk Meadow Preserve. The process took several years, but has been judged to be a great success.
Now that this new piece has been fitted into the picture, the Land Trust plans to begin the process of restoring another six miles of important habitat. Although actual on-site excavation will not begin until next year, the process has already begun.
"It's going to take about 10 years to do the whole thing," said Amanda Egertson, stewardship director for the Land Trust. "It's going to be a little bit different from Camp Polk. We will be releasing water and doing the plantings all in the same year."
Much was learned from the Camp Polk project, and the Land Trust hopes to put that knowledge to use in expediting this new phase of the rebirth of Whychus Creek.
"It would probably take about 20 years to do the whole thing one reach at a time, like we did at Camp Polk," Egertson said.
Although the heavy work of rechannelizing the stream will not begin for another year, the overall process has already begun. Dozens of downed trees, root balls still intact, have been trucked to the site in preparation for the creation of diversions and log jams in the new channels and meanders.
"We have a lot of other restoration projects already going on," said Egertson. "In the meantime, we're stockpiling things as they become available."
The current plan calls for restoration to be undertaken in one-mile segments, beginning with the lower half of the new property, which would be about mile four of the six-mile stretch presently being targeted. This portion of the acreage includes beautiful stands of orange-barked ponderosa pines and lush grasses, so extra care will be needed to preserve some of the prime habitat already present.
"This is a really large floodplain, here," Egertson said. "In these reaches, we will be knocking down (Army) Corps of Engineers berms and putting in log jams and letting the water do its work."
As the restoration of one area continues, beginning phases of the ongoing process will move into the next segments to be treated. Probably the next segment to be addressed would be the upper half of the new acquisition, to be followed by the two segments in the original Whychus Canyon Preserve holdings.
Egertson said that the canyon, and hence the floodplain, in that area is quite a bit narrower than the newer half and would, therefore, require less extensive restoration work.
"There are some areas there and at Rimrock Ranch where the stream has already done a good job of restoring itself," she said.
Extensive work at Rimrock Ranch is still probably five or six years away, Egertson said. She explained that the work at the ranch would probably be a mixture of rechanneling plus preserving and enhancing natural processes already underway.
Visits to Land Trust sites are always a balancing act between public access and habitat preservation. Deschutes Land Trust is already working with ODFW and the BLM to look at the feasibility of extending the existing trail system in the area. Additionally, six historical interpretive signs are to be installed in the next few weeks along the historic Santiam Wagon Road in the previously developed area.
Generally, there will not be public access onto the floodplain.
"We will, however be hosting tours," Egertson said. "Some are scheduled for the fall. We will, of course, have stream restoration tours even before it begins so folks can see what it looks like now and what it will look like afterward."
For more information about the Deschutes Land Trust, their free guided tours, volunteer opportunities, or to contribute to the Campaign for Whychus Creek, contact the Land Trust at 541-330-0017 or visit www.deschuteslandtrust.org.
By Craig Eisenbeis
The Nugget NewspaperJune 02, 2015