PUTTING THE MEANDER BACK IN LADD CREEK

March 21, 2002 11:00 pm
NEW LOOK: Joe Partney, left, and Dave Larson examine the new channel for Ladd Creek that has been excavated at the Ladd Marsh Wildlife Area. The water now in the creek has seeped in from other sources. Water from the present Ladd Creek channel will later be diverted to the new one. (The Observer/DICK MASON).
NEW LOOK: Joe Partney, left, and Dave Larson examine the new channel for Ladd Creek that has been excavated at the Ladd Marsh Wildlife Area. The water now in the creek has seeped in from other sources. Water from the present Ladd Creek channel will later be diverted to the new one. (The Observer/DICK MASON).

By Dick Mason

Observer Staff Writer

Chubby Checker is nowhere to be found, but a page of Union Countys natural history is twisting back to life.

The portion of Ladd Creek that runs through the Ladd Marsh Wildlife Area is being restored so that it will twist the way it did long ago. Ladd Creek was straightened many decades before Checker released his 1960 hit record The Twist.

Adding curvature to the creek is part of an effort to restore wetlands that were once known as Tule Lake. The area is north of Hot Lake.

Presently, Ladd Creek is 2 miles long within the Ladd Marsh Wildlife Area. The new meandering version of the creek will be 3 1/2 miles long within the marsh. The present creek channel will be shut down once the the new one opens. Water from the present creek will feed the new one, said Dave Larson, manager of the Ladd Marsh Wildlife Area.

Adding a meander to the creek will slow it down and ultimately help add vegetation to the area.

Because Ladd Creek will be flowing more slowly it will not be digging as deeply into the channel as it does now.

The shallower channel will help trees and plants growing in the creek area because the water table will be at a level that reaches nearby vegetation.

Thousands of trees and shrubs will be planted along the new Ladd Creek before water is put into it, Larson said.

The new meandering channel will also help trout and steelhead because more vegetation will be growing. The vegetation will lower the creek temperature in the summer and provide more escape cover.

Two water-control structures are being installed in the creek to adjust water levels. The structures will have fish ladders to allow for the passage of trout and steelhead.

Adding curvature to the creek will also help keep the wetlands filled with water for a longer period throughout the year because more water will spill over from the creek during times of high water.

In addition to the new creek channel, a dike is being put in to prevent flooding from hurting adjacent landowners. The dike and creek work is being done within a 400- to 500-acre area.

The creek work is one of two parts of a large project being completed at Ladd Marsh under the direction of the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife.

The other part involves an adjacent 700-acre area in which dikes and ponds are being built. Two ponds have been completed and another six or seven will be added later. Once this work is complete, treated wastewater from the city of La Grande will be piped into the ponds. This and the creek work will extend the amount of time the Ladd Marsh Wildlife Area has wetlands each year.

Presently the wetlands often dry up when rainfall is down. Last fall much of Ladd Marsh had dried up by mid-summer.

There will be a lot more open water for migrating birds, especially in the fall, said Larson, an ODFW biologist.

The creek excavation and dike work is being done by Partney Construction of La Grande. The firm has brought in more than 180,000 cubic yards of dirt in creating dikes.

Joe Partney, owner of Partney Construction, led his firms work.

Partney is an outdoorsman, which has made the work particularly meaningful for him. He said that the projects success is a credit to people like Larson and David Bronson, both of whom work at the wildlife area.

They will do anything to help. Nothing is an inconvenience for them, Partney said.

Those that are helping finance or support the project include Ducks Unlimited, the ODFW, the city of La Grande, the National Resource Conservation Service, the Bonneville Power Administration, the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Oregon Watershed Enhancement Board and the Nature Conservancy.

This is one of the largest projects Ducks Unlimited has supported in the Northwest, said Steve Donovan, a DU biologist in Vancouver, Wash.

Donovan said that Ducks Unlimited got involved in the project because it wants to restore the old wetlands that were known as Tule Lake.

We are interested in restoring historical wetlands, Donovan said.

Ducks Unlimited leaders also like the fact that the site will continue to be managed by the ODFW.

We dont have to worry about how it will be taken care of in the future, Donovan said. Having a manager is half the battle.