Willow Springs Preserve makes debut

The Nugget News reports on the Land Trust's newest acquisition, Willow Springs Preserve.
By Craig Eisenbeis
The Nugget News

Earlier this spring, the Deschutes Land Trust made yet another land purchase to add to its growing list of protected lands in the Deschutes River Basin. With the addition of the Willow Springs Preserve, the Land Trust's "Campaign for Whychus Creek" continues to steadily build momentum.

The Land Trust's newest preserve brings another 130 acres and an additional mile of Whychus Creek under its protective umbrella. Just upstream of, and nearly adjacent to, their precedent-setting Camp Polk Preserve stream rehabilitation project, the Land Trust has similar long-range plans for this new property.

Those plans, however, remain very much in their infancy. Jen Zalewski, land steward for the Deschutes Land Trust, led the Trust's inaugural on-site public "Show and Tell" last week. "Willow Springs is not open to the public at this time," she explained. "But we will have visits by tours such as this one. We still have to evaluate ecological factors and impacts on our neighbors."

Amanda Egertson, stewardship director for the Deschutes Land Trust, explained about the "neighbors" on adjoining properties. "The county established a management plan for the property in the early 1990s when the Cyrus family created the Rim at Aspen Lakes subdivision," Egertson said. "So we'll be working with them, the neighbors, and funders on updating that plan.

"In the coming months we'll be conducting ecological surveys, establishing photo points ... to document change over time, and developing a management plan that will guide the long-term stewardship of the property. In the short term," she said, "folks can expect to see weed management, old barbed wire fence removal and other debris clean up, and aspen restoration. In the longer term, we'll assess stream restoration opportunities with our restoration partners."

About a dozen Land Trust supporters signed up for the limited number of slots on this first-ever tour of the new preserve. Land Trust volunteer Carol Wall also treated the attendees to some of the history of the new preserve. She told the group that "When the Santiam Wagon Road was being built in the 1860s - in return for construction of the road - the company was granted three sections of land for every mile of road construction. This site was part of their holdings, which added up to a total of 861,000 acres!"

By the turn of the last century, those holdings had been somewhat reduced. "In 1911," Wall said, "the Oregon and Western Colonization Company took over the holdings of 800,000 acres." After World War II, the Willow Springs site was owned by a succession of families until it found its permanent home under the stewardship of the Deschutes Land Trust.

Like much of Whychus Creek, the existing stream channel on this site no longer flows naturally, due to artificial straightening designed to reduce flooding and enhance agriculture. Zalewski explained that the straighter channel causes water to flow faster, which - in turn - seriously erodes the flood plain soils. In this case, while not as extreme as the damage at the Camp Polk site, the creek at Willow Springs is still five to 10 feet below the flood plain in some places.

The Land Trust's nationally acclaimed reclamation project at the Camp Polk Preserve returned the stream to a more natural condition and restored the flow of Whychus Creek to its original floodplain. While the goal will be to eventually do the same at Willow Springs, Zalewski concedes that it will be several years before that project can begin.

At this time, a similar six-phase stream rehabilitation project is already taking place downstream at the Whychus Canyon Preserve. That project is still in its early stages, so Willow Springs will have to wait its turn for major renovation. In the meantime, the Land Trust will be undertaking a series of less dramatic stewardship efforts to clean up the property and remove invasive weeds as it begins to help the land return to its natural state.

Toward that end, the Land Trust will be actively seeking volunteers to help advance the organization's goals. "The property is not open to the public," said Egertson, "so the best way to see it is on a free Land Trust tour or by joining one of the work parties we'll be scheduling later this summer. For more information, we encourage folks to check out our website at deschuteslandtrust.org."