Photo: Rane Johnson.

The Story of Whychus Canyon Preserve

Oct 08, 2020 by Jana Hemphill
This year the Land Trust celebrates 25 years of amazing land conservation. To help celebrate, we look at the story of Whychus Canyon Preserve--a jewel of Central Oregon.

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In honor of the Land Trust’s 25
th Anniversary, we’re sharing the stories of our flagship Preserves—the places, the people who have helped care for them, and the power they have to create a brighter future. 

A creek can give life.

Imagine you are at Whychus Creek. Close your eyes as you lean against a tree trunk, shaded from the high desert sun. Listen to the gurgling and rushing sounds of the creek. Perhaps you hear the wind rustling the willows. Songbirds call out as they go about their day. Bumblebees buzz around, searching for sweet nectar. The air around the creek feels cool on your face and arms. The creek is calming and grounding. This is worth protecting for our community.

Creeks also bring the sustenance of the high mountains down to the dry, high desert of Central Oregon. Steelhead and Chinook, deer, elk, bobcats, songbirds, butterflies, macroinvertebrates—they all depend on the waters coursing through their homes. Cottonwoods, aspens, and willows drink up through their roots. An array of wildflowers, shrubs, and other plants spring forth thanks to our creeks. Take away the creek and this all withers away. The creek is worth protecting for local wildlife and plant communities.

These are just a few of the reasons the Deschutes Land Trust worked to protect Whychus Canyon Preserve—one of our iconic community preserves. From the pockets of old growth juniper, native bunchgrasses, and winter range for mule deer to the nearly four miles of Whychus Creek, stands of aspen, and historic Santiam Wagon Road, Whychus Canyon Preserve is a jewel of Central Oregon. But how did we protect it?

Whychus Creek passes through Whychus Canyon Preserve. Photo: Bruce Jackson.
Whychus Creek passes through Whychus Canyon Preserve. Photo: Bruce Jackson.
As you might imagine, it all started a while ago, as many Land Trust projects do. The Land Trust initiated its Back to Home Waters program back in 2001, working to coordinate protection and restoration efforts supporting the reintroduction of salmon and steelhead into the upper Deschutes River region. As this work progressed, it became clear that Whychus Creek should be our highest priority. The Land Trust began reaching out to landowners along the creek, finding out if they were interested in working with us on protecting their land. One of these individuals owned 450 acres, with rimrock cliff habitat for birds and bats, incredible views of the Cascade mountains, and 1.9 miles of that critical, blue ribbon of life—Whychus Creek. In 2010, after many years of conversations with the owner, the Land Trust acquired what is now known as Whychus Canyon Preserve.

But the Land Trust wasn’t finished protecting land along Whychus Creek. A couple of years later, we launched our Campaign for Whychus Creek, with the goal of finishing our land conservation efforts along the creek. At the time we were in conversations with another landowner about protecting their land just downstream of Whychus Canyon Preserve. With community support from the Campaign for Whychus Creek, the Land Trust was able to add an additional 480 acres to Whychus Canyon Preserve in 2014. Now, the Preserve protects nearly 4 miles of Whychus Creek forever.

Do you think the Land Trust was done after that? Nope. After a successful restoration of Whychus Creek at Camp Polk Meadow Preserve, it was time to turn our sights to restoring the creek at Whychus Canyon Preserve. In 2016, with our partners, we started the first phase of restoring a six-mile stretch of Whychus Creek. You can learn a lot more about this restoration here. Today the former dry meadow at the Preserve is turning into a lush, vibrant meadow that is connected to its creek. Elk are frequently seen in this meadow every spring, while songbirds burst forth with their melodious calls.

Whychus Creek has returned to what it is meant to do, and why it is worth protecting—it gives life in this high desert we call home.

As the Land Trust celebrates its 25th anniversary, Whychus Canyon Preserve is a beacon of light and hope for the future. It is a testament to what we can accomplish together as a community. We can return health to the natural world. We can learn from the land and the people who care for it. What does the next 25 years hold for Whychus Canyon Preserve? Undoubtedly adapting and changing as the natural world, our climate, and our community grow and change. Your Land Trust will be here as a guide along the way. We hope you’ll join us!

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