Putting Together the Puzzle Pieces

The Source reports on the launch of the Campaign for Whychus Creek.
By Phil Busse
The Source Weekly

On Oct 1, the Deschutes Land Trust publicly announced an ambitious goal to fully reclaim and restore Whychus Creek, a cold water tributary that runs northeast from Sisters into the Deschutes River. In an exclusive interview with the Source, Executive Director Brad Chalfant and Associate Director Zak Boone excitedly laid out a three year campaign to raise $15 million—funds to be used to purchase the waterfront acreage of the creek remaining in private hands, and turning that land into park land accessible to the public. What's more, the two men also unveiled that the organization has already raised $4 million, even before its campaign reached the starting line—and, as if that wasn't enough, over the summer, already had purchased a large track of previously privately-held land.

Over the past century, a mixed bag of farmers, vacationers and federal agencies have parceled up the land along Whychus Creek into a patchwork of public and private land; parts of the creek are accessible, while others are strictly no trespassing; no how, no way. But the Deschutes Land Trust hopes to piece the land back together, and has been collecting the puzzle parts to do just that. They believe that their $15 million campaign will afford them the ability to purchase back most, if not all, of the land alongside the creek.

The recent purchase of 440 acres was particularly exciting as it sits along a six-mile-long stretch of the stream, and gives the organization a good deal of momentum toward its goal of acquiring the remaining waterfront property for public access.

But, said Boone and Chalfant, the purchase of the current property was hardly a single sit-down affair. It came after years of conversations and visits with the landowner. Boone and Chalfant explained that the man who had owned the property had been suspicious of tree-huggers, but his viewpoints softened the more he knew the goals of the Deschutes Land Trust, and spent time with its members.

"The old barriers start to come down once we start to talk," says Chalfant.

The landowner keeps his house along a ridge above the creek, but, as Boone pointed out, no longer needs to keep up 440 acres of weeding and lawn maintenance.

Boone also pointed out that the conversation about how to manage land in Central Oregon has changed dramatically over the past few years—that is, as opposed to the heated debates and battles between environmentalists and loggers and farmers in the '80s, this approach is truly collaborative. "It's not threatening," says Boone, ticking off that property values increase, water quality improves and tourism possibilities widen.

Whychus Creek is more mellow that the tumbling white water of the Deschutes River that draws rafters and thrill-seeking kayakers; it is more about butterfly and bird watching, low-key hikes, and fly fishing—activities equally attractive to different brands of tourists.