Camp Polk Meadow five years later

Mar 09, 2017
It’s hard to believe it has been five years since the massive restoration of Camp Polk Meadow Preserve was complete. Sarah Mowry reflects on the meadow, the changes we've seen, and the future of this dynamic place.

by Sarah Mowry

It’s hard to believe, but it’s already been five years since the massive restoration of Camp Polk Meadow Preserve was complete. It was a snowy, cold day back in 2012, February 28 to be exact, when the Land Trust and our restoration partners returned the full flow of the creek back to the meadow for the first time in 47 years.

Whychus Creek in 2012 as it was redirected back into Camp Polk Meadow. Photo: Jay Mather.
Whychus Creek in 2012 as it was redirected back into Camp Polk Meadow. Photo: Jay Mather.

The Land Trust’s full staff was on hand for the historic day and we all watched from various points along the bank as the face of the Preserve was changed forever. I was staged high on a rocky overlook, right above the spot on the creek where the excavators dumped massive amounts of rock, huge trees, and soil to block the old straight creek. As the blocked channel slowed the water to a trickle, water began to flow and bring new life back to the meadow where it had been absent for so many years.

For me, it was a career highlight to see that kind of innovative, inspiring restoration work that would help heal our meadow. But it has been even more of a career highlight to watch the meadow grow and change over the last five years. My favorite changes at Camp Polk Meadow Preserve include:

  1. Whychus Creek at Camp Polk Meadow Preserve. Photo: Ryder Redfield.
    Whychus Creek at Camp Polk Meadow Preserve. Photo: Ryder Redfield.
    Camp Polk Meadow is now an incredibly dynamic place! What was once a dry, dusty, static place is now full of life and change. Water re-sculpts the meadow at regular intervals, new plants have taken root and flourished, wildlife are beginning to make the meadow their home. All this because we have given nature back her leading role.

  2. Water! About that water in the meadow—it’s everywhere! Whychus Creek now floods its banks on a regular basis, helping slow waters and bring life-sustaining nutrients back to its banks. The restoration has also dramatically elevated groundwater levels and rehydrated the surrounding meadow, allowing it to be the sponge with cool water that the creek needs during hot summer months.

  3. Willow, alders, dogwoods, oh my! The vegetation at Camp Polk Meadow has exploded! Post-restoration survivorship was astounding with 99% of plants surviving. In fact so many plants survived and created volunteer plants that researchers can no longer find the original plants and had to change their monitoring methods. Check out this series of photos and watch as a portion of the lower meadow transforms from a dry, dusty place with no creek (2009) to a place with head high willows, alders, and dogwoods!

  4. Stella who stole our hearts! Last spring we celebrated the return of the first adult steelhead to Camp Polk Meadow Preserve in 52 years. We called her Stella, and danced a little jig that she survived the gauntlet of dangers to return from her ocean journey and nestle down under a log jam in our newly restored meadow. Now we hope she'll be joined by many others.


The Camp Polk Meadow restoration was a massive leap forward in realizing the dreams for many Land Trust staff, members, volunteers, and partners. It all started with the Land Trust’s purchase of the meadow in 2000 with the vision of fish and wildlife thriving in a historic meadow. I came into the middle of the story in 2005 when we knew the restoration was a possibility, but a lot of work remained to achieve our goals. 

In 2007, two years before the restoration started, we released the first tiny steelhead fry back into the creek. It was a symbolic day for the fish, but also for the meadow and our collective future. I was lucky enough to help with the releases, and so was my son Will, heavy in my belly and about ready to join the world. 

This year Will turns 10(!) which means it's been ten years since we first released those tiny steelhead at Camp Polk Meadow. Will and his sister have now helped release their own steelhead fry, but their release was into a meadow that is much healthier than it was in 2007.

Last spring, we all celebrated together when Stella, the first adult steelhead in 52 years finally returned to Camp Polk Meadow Preserve. Even if you aren't a fish person, it's hard not to get excited about what Stella means for the meadow and our community. Together we CAN help get nature back on her feet so the iconic species of our region can return and thrive.

As we look to the future, we know that, thanks to the Land Trust, Camp Polk Meadow Preserve will be there in 5, 10, 20 more years when Stella's children and grandchildren make their own triumphant return. I hope I can be there too.

 

Helping release steelhead fry at Camp Polk Meadow Preserve. Photo: Jay Mather.
Helping release steelhead fry at Camp Polk Meadow Preserve. Photo: Jay Mather.

 
Sarah Mowry is the Deschutes Land Trust's Outreach Director. She has been working to share the amazing work of the Land Trust with our community since 2005.


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