Fresh off the resounding success of the Whychus Creek restoration at Camp Polk, the Deschutes Land Trust is gearing up for yet another major creek restoration project at their Whychus Canyon Preserve, which is downstream from Camp Polk. Beginning in July, bulldozers and heavy equipment will begin to reshape the canyon floor and streambed of the 930-acre preserve.
Amanda Egertson, stewardship director for the Land Trust, explained that the lessons learned during the Camp Polk restoration will help to move this next project along much more quickly. "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."
The two-mile project at Camp Polk took four years.
"This is a six-mile project," she said. "We can't afford to go at the same pace; it would take more than 20 years."
Another difference is that Camp Polk's restoration centered primarily around a single meandering channel to spread the creek across the floodplain. The plan at the Whychus Canyon Preserve calls for a many-channeled "braided" pattern for the creek to follow.
"I feel like we can accomplish a lot more with the braided system," Egertson said.
The six-mile project begins at the southwestern, upstream end of the preserve and will end at the far end of Rimrock Ranch, where the creek enters a relatively narrow canyon on public land.
Egertson explained that more than 50 years ago, the stream channel was straightened to prevent flooding; but the unintended result was the destruction of many miles of fish and wildlife habitat.
"In all," she said, "18 of Whychus Creek's 40 miles were straightened."
Much of the restoration work will focus on removing the artificial berms and barriers that have kept the creek from spreading out across its natural floodplain. Although more complicated than it sounds, the major thrust of the project will be to push the half-century-old berms back into the gouged-out channel so the creek can flood out across the whole canyon floor as it once did.
The Whychus Canyon Preserve straddles four miles of Whychus Creek. Originally established in 2010, it was opened to the public in 2011 and doubled in size in 2014. The first phase of the project will begin on land that is part of that most recent acquisition.
Two miles of creek on Rimrock Ranch completes the contiguous six-mile stretch of the project, which has been divided into six "reaches" of approximately one mile each. The adjacent Rimrock Ranch, another part of the Land Trust system, is currently linked to the Land Trust through a landowner conservation easement; and an agreement was recently completed that would eventually bring the ranch under DLT ownership.
The first phase of the project will begin in what has been designated as Reach 4. Immediately upstream, next in line for restoration will be Reach 3. Reaches 1 and 2 will most likely follow; and Reaches 5 and 6, on Rimrock Ranch, will follow to complete the project.
Egertson said that the canyon in the upper part of the Preserve and at Rimrock Ranch is quite a bit narrower than at Reach 4 and, therefore, would 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 four or five years away. Egertson explained that the work at the ranch would probably be a mixture of rechanneling, plus preserving and enhancing natural processes already underway.
In preparation for this summer's work, hundreds of downed trees with 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've been stockpiling things as they become available." Egertson explained that the downed trees have been salvaged from unrelated construction jobs around the area.
This year's project area is not open to the public, although it is envisioned that part of the uplands would include portions of a planned hiking trail to connect all the segments along the lower creek. The project area, however, can be visited by taking part in one of the Land Trust's free guided tours.
This initial project area 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. Egertson said that 200,000 individual native plants were placed in Camp Polk, and a similar planting regimen will take place here, as well; but, she said, the process will be much more swift on this reach, with planting to take place in late September and early November of this year.
"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."
For more information about the Deschutes Land Trust, their free guided tours, volunteer opportunities, membership, or to contribute to the Campaign for Whychus Creek, contact the Land Trust at 541-330-0017 or log on to deschuteslandtrust.org.