Efforts to return a local creek to its historic route – a project many years in the making with a price tag in excess of $4 million – will begin this summer.
That was the word delivered Feb. 11 to members of the Enumclaw City Council by Josh Kahan, a project manager with the King County Department of Natural Resources and Parks.
Big Spring Creek bubbles to the surface just north of Enumclaw and, in its prime, was a salmon-spawning waterway that fed into Newaukum Creek. Newaukum then splashes into the Green River near Flaming Geyser State Park.
Big Spring Creek became a target for conservationists because, early in the 20th century, it was radically altered from its natural course. Looking to make the land north of town better suited to farming and ranching, authorities at the time diverted the creek into roadside ditches. While those efforts opened up the land, they degraded the quality of the stream’s fish and wildlife habitat. That’s how Big Spring Creek remains today.
Spurring restoration efforts is the fact that Big Spring Creek is a historic home to the coho salmon that is now a candidate for listing across Puget Sound under the federal Endangered Species Act. The key to the project is that money follows efforts to protect salmon.
Kahan said the creek project will be tackled in two parts. Phase One will likely begin in August, with Phase Two anticipated for 2014.
The plan is to restore the creek by building a new channel three-quarters of a mile long, diverting water away from the current roadside ditches. Logs and tree root wads will be placed in the new stream channel and wetland and the creek banks would be replanted with native vegetation.
Efforts will begin at 424th Street Southeast, Kahan said, explaining that stream restoration projects don’t look like much in the early stages.
“It’s not going to be pretty,” he said of the initial construction. “But if you give a project time, you begin to see it heal.
“This will look completely different in 10 years.”
As part of the project, native vegetation will be added for 200 feet on each side of the creek. In addition, Kahan said, 80 acres of wetland will be enhanced and up to five wetland pools will be established.
Such projects can draw the ire of neighboring landowners, but that’s not the case with Big Spring Creek, Kahan said. Residents saw the benefit of improved drainage through the area, he said, and signed off on the project. One landowner was not interested, so the project was redesigned to skirt that property.
While the southernmost portion of the project lies in the Enumclaw city limits, all impacted landowners are in unincorporated King County.
The total cost of the restoration is pegged at $4.1 million. Under the proposal that wound through the Metropolitan King County Council, the county is to provide more than $1.4 million in funding and in-kind services, with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers picking up the bulk of the remaining tab.