Restoration project puts Rickreall Creek back on track

DALLAS -- Rickreall Creek roars through a section of Dallas City Park where it had trickled through a series of pipes only last summer.

The work of hundreds of volunteer hours restoring the creek has disappeared from view, just as planned. The creek now does what it was designed to do.

Kenn Carter, Dallas assistant public works director, points to water flowing around and over obstacles placed in the creek bed during the summer. The creek now flows hardest down the middle of the channel -- away from the houses on one bank.

The other bank, once a 16-foot steep drop from the Delbert Hunter Arboretum, now slopes back gently, the water rising slowly with December rains. Native grasses, willows and shrubs cover the bank, keeping the work in place.

Flood waters will rise gradually along this slope and, everyone hopes, not into homes on the other side.

The rolling water hides more than natural and concrete barriers. The idyllic scene tells little of the tremendous effort that created it.

The project took a laundry list of public and private sector supporters. A grant from the state Watershed Enhancement Board provided the bulk of the cash. The Rickreall Watershed Council, the City of Dallas, Friends of Delbert Hunter Arboretum, Polk Soil and Water Conservation District, the federal Natural Resource Conservation Service, Oregon State University fisheries students, the Confederated Tribes of

Grand Ronde, Polk County Juvenile Department, the National Guard and Dallas High School's football and volleyball teams all took part.

On the business side, the James W. Fowler Co., Herrera Environmental consultants, Weyerhaeuser, Boise, Dalton Rock, White's Hauling, Agate Construction and Tanglewood Timber all either donated services and supplies or provided them at cost.

Changes in the creek give fish a sporting chance. Rickreall Creek had run straight and fast through the arboretum, washing away the gravel fish need to spawn.

The project changed that. Logs, anchored into the creek by concrete logs, help slow the rushing water and trap passing gravel.

The creek had been digging an inch deeper into its bottom every year, Carter said. Now, Carter hopes the creek bottom will build back to where it was 30 or 40 years ago in as soon as a year.

Carter and Rickreall Watershed Council Coordinator Jackie Hastings summed up the project for an audience mostly of participants Dec. 9 at the arboretum.

For Friends of Delbert Hunter Arboretum members, their pride in the project they helped create mixed with some sadness. "It's wonderful to see this waterfall flowing over these artificial log jams," said Friends President Carol Mannen.

Neighbors of the project had mixed reactions. Some lamented the loss of trees on the creek bank, while most thought the project worthwhile.

Helen Dawson said she's waiting to see whether it will reduce erosion on her property. Aesthetically, she called it a mixed bag.

"I like the little waterfalls it's created," Dawson said, "but it's hard to see the trees go."

Virginia and Bob Quigley also withheld judgment about the effects on their land. "Check back in September," Bob said.

"I don't know if it will help with erosion," Virginia said. "They say it's good for the fish, but I haven't seen a fish in 15 years here."

Actually, a study last year found nearly two dozen fish species in the creek, including salmon and trout. Over the summer, workers moved thousands of fish temporarily displaced by the arboretum project.

Robin Petchell agrees with the goals of the project. He's glad to see the creek slope away from his house but wants to see how it works after a bigger rain.

"It's definitely a good idea," Petchell said. "It was better when we had all the trees, but obviously you have to sacrifice something to grade the bank back.

"I'd rather have that than be flooded."

Not all neighbors got a chance to see the finished product. The Aboretum's creator and namesake, Delbert Hunter, died Sept. 7.

"I'm really grateful [Hunter] had the opportunity to be out there and see this project get underway," Mannen said, her voice breaking.

Another of Hunter's contributions lives on. Work crews digging out the stream bank nicknamed the temporary dirt mound that formed "Mount Hunter."

Mount Hunter, around 4,000 cubic yards, went to create a new wetlands adjacent the creek, in a former ball field. To imagine that amount of earth, Carter said, think of a 50-foot cube of dirt.

To an engineer's eye, Carter said, the arboretum project looks like a million-dollar effort. Actually, it came in around $225,000.

The Watershed Enhancement Board gave around $142,000 for the effort, with the remainder coming from donations.

The amount of teamwork stunned Carter. "I don't know if you could do something like this in any other community," he said.

"When people get together and use their resources, skill and talents, it's amazing what you can do. It's incredible."


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