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Turning Gravel Pits Into Fish Habitat

Rachael McDonald

The McKenzie River Trust is embarking on a project to turn gravel beds into native fish habitat on its Green Island property north of Eugene. The project brings together two unexpected partners: conservationists and the gravel industry.

The Coburg Aggregate Reclamation Project, or CARP, is at a place along the historic McKenzie River channel where gravel was mined for many years. Now, three ponds are the remnants of that mining operation. Joe Moll is Executive Director of McKenzie River Trust.

Moll: "For our Chinook Salmon or Oregon Chub or other fish that evolved to take advantage of a really active flood plain that ebbs and flows with the season, ponds like this can be a real problem. So, our goal is to restore connection between these ponded areas and the channels so that native fish that come in during high water can also get out more easily."

The project involves moving about a hundred thousand cubic yards of gravel. That's where Wildish Company comes in.

Hledik: "I'm Randy Hledik with the Wildish Companies and we've been hired by the McKenzie River Trust to help them bring their plans to reality."

Wildish will ease the slopes of the ponds to make them more hospitable to native fish and wildlife. They'll also build a channel to connect the ponds to the river so salmon can migrate.  Hledik expects the project to take 3 months.

Credit Rachael McDonald
One of three gravel ponds on Green Island.

He says since the 1970s, the state has required restoration of old gravel mines. He sees these kinds of projects as good opportunities for the gravel industry.
Heldik: "And so this will be interesting to see how this shapes up and the habitat it can provide for wildlife. There are other examples, in Eugene, the Delta Ponds were reconfigured. You look up and down across the state of Oregon, and the river systems in Coos Bay, these gravel pits have been turned into Cranberry Bogs."

Hledik says it's a chance for a construction and gravel company to work with conservationists toward a common goal.
Joe Moll says this project is in keeping with McKenzie River Trust's mission to bring back a living river:

Moll: "It restores a bit of what the river had historically. Which was just more sway, more places to go out onto the floodplain, more conveyance."

The one million dollar project is funded by The Bonneville Power Administration, the Oregon Watershed Enhancement Board and Meyer Memorial Trust.

McKenzie River Trust is holding its Living River Celebration at Green Island Saturday (June 28) from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. It's the one time of year when the property is open to the public.

Credit McKenzie River Trust
Aerial view of gravel ponds on Green Island.

Rachael McDonald is KLCC’s host for All Things Considered on weekday afternoons. She also is the editor of the KLCC Extra, the daily digital newspaper. Rachael has a BA in English from the University of Oregon. She started out in public radio as a newsroom volunteer at KLCC in 2000.
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