Setting the Stage for Creek Restoration
After two weekends of log deliveries to Tualatin River National Wildlife Refuge, the signs of change and the Chicken Creek Restoration Project are becoming more evident. If you’ve visited the Wetland Seasonal Trail lately, you’ve probably noticed literal signs, like the friendly beaver pointing you in the direction of the new section of trail, offering new views and an additional 1/2 mile to explore.
If you’re new to the Chicken Creek Restoration Project, check out this quick explainer, featuring the Refuge’s Biological Technician, Sarah Williams Brown:
Drying the Land
Your keen eye may have also noticed another recent change - significantly lower water levels in the southernmost wetland (along the new section of trail) and in the straight ditch adjacent to that wetland. You may have even noticed some small equipment expediting the process. This, too, is part of the restoration project.
The wetland we call “2S” (S for Seasonal and 2 because…well…there’s more than one seasonal wetland out there) naturally dries out every Summer. This year, Refuge staff are speeding up the process with a small pump that will drain the last bit of shallow water. The “lateral” ditch is being drained by removing boards from the two water control structures located at the east end of the ditch. We’re essentially pulling the plug and draining the water into the two lower wetland cells below the Visitor Center.
Why are we draining these areas? The answer comes straight from staff Biologist, Curt Mykut:
“We need to improve conditions for the construction equipment and activities of the Chicken Creek Restoration Project. Construction equipment will need to access portions of the 2S wetland and areas in and around the lateral ditch. If we don't drain these areas and dry out the soils, we run the risk of getting construction equipment stuck.”
Filling the Ditch
As part of the restoration, the lateral ditch will be completely filled in. This human made ditch once served to deliver water to the various managed wetland cells on the Refuge. Managing water this way has been a challenging process for Refuge staff that yields less than ideal results. Once restored, Chicken Creek will serve the purpose of distributing water throughout the wetlands in a much more natural way…with a little help from some friendly, neighborhood beavers.
Wildlife Impact of Draining
Because the 2S wetland naturally dries out every year, waterfowl with broods have moved to areas with more consistent water, as they normally would. In contrast, the lower water levels in 2S are attracting more wading birds like, great egrets and great blue herons. As mudflats have been exposed, a variety of shorebirds have begun to show up, like greater yellowlegs and killdeer.
A similar pattern will be seen in the lateral ditch as it loses water. Waterfowl with broods will move to the lower wetland cells by the Visitor Center. You may also see more wading birds and shorebirds hanging out around the lateral ditch, in search of a meal.
Big Benefits for Wildlife and People
Significant change is rarely easy, but it can be very exciting and full of benefits. Completion of the Chicken Creek Restoration Project will mean:
Wildlife will have two miles of meandering creek in which to travel, rest, eat, and avoid predators, compared to the mere 1/2 mile of straight ditch that currently parallels Roy Rogers Road on its way to the Tualatin River.
Water quality will improve as the slower moving meander of Chicken Creek will cause less sediment to make its way to the Tualatin River, while the 280-acre continuous wetland acts as a natural water filter.
Plant diversity in the project site will increase, attracting new wildlife and providing a more dynamic experience for visitors.
The entire wetland system on the Atfalat’i Unit will be more natural, reducing the burden on staff to actively manage water levels, while producing better outcomes for plants and wildlife.
Temporary Disruptions to Trail Access
As the giant logs now dotting the landscape suggest, there will occasionally be some large equipment moving through the Refuge. The Wetland Seasonal Trail is also the road in and out of the restoration site. We will occasionally need to close portions of the trail when large equipment is moving through the area. Below is the next upcoming trail access disruption and a map of what’s open and closed:
Wednesday July 24th and Thursday July 25th: Closure of the southern portion of the Wetland Seasonal Trail for large woody debris delivery.