Crystal Springs Creek is a small river in Southeast Portland with big potential. Thanks in part to a $311,480 grant from Metro’s Nature in Neighborhoods program, it appears Crystal Springs will reach its potential―not in 50 years or 25 years―but in ten years. The City of Portland’s Bureau of Environmental Services and community groups have joined together in the Crystal Springs Restoration Partnership. While the project will benefit the overall environment and give neighbors an opportunity to connect with natural habitat, the biggest beneficiary will be fish.

From mouth to headwaters, Crystal Springs Creek measures 2.7 miles. It is fed only by springs, leaving the water free of the urban runoff that taints so many of the city’s streams. The clean water, along with a constant year-round flow, low temperatures and little changes in gradient make this a potential sanctuary for the area’s threatened salmon. The Lower Columbia chinook, the coho and the steelhead—all listed under the Endangered Species Act—have been documented in Crystal Springs Creek. There’s even the possibility that the Columbia River chum, which has died off in the Portland area, could be reintroduced to the creek.

Currently, concrete, cinderblocks and grouted stacks of rocks line the sides along a majority of the stream and culverts, turning what could be a sanctuary into an unfriendly environment for the salmon. The restoration partnership will remove the troubling culverts. Invasive plants will be taken out, as will the concrete and other unnatural materials lining the banks. Native vegetation will take its place.

“This investment in restoration will promote the return of steelhead and salmon in the middle of our region,” said Metro Councilor Robert Liberty. “In a time of growing concern about our environment, this work gives all of us hope for a better future.”

A previous Nature in Neighborhoods grant from Metro to the City’s parks department will fund repairs to the creek in Westmoreland Park. Concrete banks were installed to make the creek form a large pond in the park. By removing these manmade banks and restoring vegetation to the floodplain, Crystal Springs will be able to return to a natural meandering stream through that area of the park.

“Environmental restoration in Westmoreland Park is a priority for Portland Parks & Recreation and the community at large,” said Zari Santner, Director of Portland Parks & Recreation. “The Bureau of Environmental Services’ project would enhance the significant community investment already made toward ecological restoration of Westmoreland Park.”

Another key area of the restoration partnership project is what is called the Brannen property at SE 21st Avenue and Umatilla Street. The Brannen family has owned the property since the 1960s. Last summer, the family donated part of the property and sold the rest to the City for the purpose of restoring the site. A triplex, carport and driveway on the land will be removed. The carport currently straddles an undersized culvert to Crystal Springs Creek that is a barrier to both juvenile salmon and, in some cases, adults. The culvert will be removed and daylight will once again reach this segment of the creek. Invasive plants will be replaced with native ones and part of the property will return to a wetland. A small trail will be put in as well as an overlook area where the driveway currently sits.

The City of Portland also hopes to acquire additional segments of residential land upstream and downstream of the Brannen property in order to restore the entire length of the creek. This would improve the overall quality and health of Crystal Springs as well as the habitat for its fish, ducks, beavers and other wildlife.

The community has already shown a strong commitment to the project. Johnson Creek Watershed Council, Stop Oregon Litter and Vandalism (SOLV), Reed College, Portland Parks, TriMet and Metro all support the Environmental Services restoration efforts and understand what a lasting impact they will have on Crystal Springs Creek. “As someone who stood transfixed last winter at the top of Reed Canyon fish ladder, within feet of the source of Crystal Springs, and watched two steelhead swimming, I can’t fully express how excited I am that the City has such an ambitious comprehensive, and well-conceived plan to fully restore salmonids in this sub-basin of Johnson Creek Watershed,” said Matthew Clark, Executive Director of the Johnson Creek Watershed Council.

Metro’s Nature in Neighborhoods capital grants program encourages the restoration of natural habitats in communities especially those efforts that benefit the region’s fish and wildlife and strengthen people’s connection to nature. The grants program is funded by Metro’s natural areas bond measure approved by voters in 2006.

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