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Restoring A Living River At Green Island

For National Get Outdoors Daythis Saturday, McKenzie River Trust is opening its largest protected property to the public. The thousand acre site is just north of the confluence of the McKenzie and Willamette Rivers. KLCC’s Rachael McDonald went to the property and took a walk with McKenzie River Trust Executive Director Joe Moll.

“We’re coming up on the main stem of the Willamette River on the north end of Green Island and it looks like we’ve lost another 30-40 feet of embankment. The river’s just cutting this way to the northeast.”

The lush grasses are thick here and the spring rains have brought blooming wildflowers. We look out at the river rushing by. Joe Moll is pleased to see the changes that have taken place here over the winter.

“That’s pretty impressive. And look at all this sand. All of this sand and silt was just deposited in this last storm.”

Credit Rachael McDonald
Sand, gravel and a tree washed up by winter storms at Green Island

Moll points to a 30-foot Ponderosa Pine that’s fallen in the water. He says it was planted about 15 years ago as part of their flood plain restoration work.

Moll: “And that really is one of the goals is to build up large trees that can fall into the river become a part of that mix of what the river does in an active dynamic flood plain like this.”

Green Island is named for the family that used to farm here. Since McKenzie River Trust purchased the property over 10 years ago. Moll says they’ve been working rebuild the flood plain forest here and let the river reconnect with its flood plain.

Moll: “We are learning year to year how important this dynamic connection between a river and its flood plain is, not only for fish and wildlife health, but literally for keeping water clean and cool. You know, we’re upstream of millions of people, most of whom draw on this river.”

Moll says there’s more recognition of the need for long term resilience.

Moll: “We’re at a time when our climate’s changing.  The impacts on water and water supply is changing. And we’re in a really fortunate part of the world where we have a lot of water. And so there will be more people coming here to join us.”

He says that that raises the question of how to maintain the health of the water supply into the future.

“These healthy flood plains. These healthy, connected, dynamic flood plain forests, really are a key. Really are a key to that resiliency.”

Moll says the restoration work is done with the help of hundreds of volunteers. Many have been coming here for years.

“Incredible. If you’ve been out before and you’ve seen this year to year, each change is just like magic. It’s like waking up and it’s all reshuffled.”

McKenzie River Trust opens Green Island to the public just one day a year. This Saturday, they’re celebrating National Get Outdoors Day and statewide outdoor recreation day.

“In some ways, this is Oregon, you don’t need a special day to get outdoors and celebrate it. But I think it’s a sign of the times that sometimes we do need to raise the flag and call attention to just how incredibly special this place is.”

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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