City restores Issaquah Creek salmon habitat

October 19, 2010

By Warren Kagarise

Greenway volunteers plant native trees, shrubs

Environmental restoration crew workers add tree trunks to Issaquah Creek last month at Squak Valley Park North to provide habitat for salmon and other fish to spawn and hide from predators. By Greg Farrar

Squak Valley Park North — a slice of former farmland sidled against Issaquah Creek — started to resemble a bygone era by the time more than 250 planters left the site on a sunny Saturday afternoon.

The daylong planting session Oct. 16 capped a summer of habitat restoration at the city park — eight acres nestled between Squak and Tiger mountains along Issaquah-Hobart Road Southeast.

Restoration at the site started in mid-July, as equipment rolled into the park to scoop out chunks of a Depression-era earthen dike built to hold back Issaquah Creek. Throughout the summer, crews added tree trunks to the shallow creek to provide habitat for salmon and other fish to spawn and hide from predators.

Then, for the Oct. 16 planting session, Mountains to Sound Greenway corralled 269 volunteers to plant 2,042 native trees and shrubs. The lineup included majestic Western red cedar and Douglas fir, plus humble shrubs, like snowberry and tall Oregon grape.

“Squak Valley Park sits right between Squak and Tiger mountains, and the connectivity, the ability for wildlife and people to move along these corridors is also really important,” greenway Restoration Program Manager Tor Bell said.

The session at the Issaquah park launched a campaign to plant more than 25,000 trees and shrubs in natural areas throughout the greenway. The greenbelt stretches along Interstate 90 from the Seattle waterfront to Central Washington.

Inside Squak Valley Park North, Issaquah Creek flows in a straight and uniform channel for 1,100 feet — a result of the levee construction in the mid-1930s. Construction crews breached the barrier in order to restore the creek to a more meandering flow.The project is among the largest habitat-restoration projects in city history.

City Surface Water Manager Kerry Ritland said the result should cause Issaquah Creek to broaden through the length of the park and provide additional fish habitat.

The price tag for the project totaled $1.4 million. The city contributed about $350,000 and cobbled together grants and money from other sources to fund the remainder.

The park sits across Issaquah Creek from the Sycamore neighborhood. The city purchased lots in Sycamore last year to preserve additional creekside habitat and use the site as a staging area for the restoration project.

Eric Erickson sold the Squak Valley Park North site — then a farm named for the Erickson family — to the city in the late 1980s in order to prevent development on the land.

The restoration project, he said, “keeps a piece of valley almost in its original state.”

The city considered the site for a flood-mitigation project after the 1996 flood. In the late 1990s, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers proposed a habitat-restoration effort similar to the current project, but funding problems and delays scuttled the plan.

The effort has raised questions from neighbors concerned about flood risks due to the breached levee. Ritland said the end result should not increase the flood risk for the site.

The city started to assemble grants for the ongoing effort in 2008. Besides the habitat restoration, plans call for the park to include trails, interpretive signs and stream overlooks.

Before the planting session, the city and greenway volunteers yanked invasive Japanese knotweed and Himalayan blackberry from the site. Native flora at the park includes alder saplings, salmonberries and willows.

“We could leave everything here in blackberry, and it would be a nice, green polygon on a map, but you’re not capturing the value of what we’re hoping for in terms of clean water, habitat conditions, clean air,” Bell said.

The sunny Saturday at Squak Valley Park North contrasted a 2009 planting along Issaquah Creek at Lake Sammamish State Park. Despite the bad weather, hundreds of undaunted volunteers turned out to add native plants to the landscape.

“The people in the Northwest just have a really amazing ethic about this,” Bell said.

Warren Kagarise: 392-6434, ext. 234, or wkagarise@isspress.com. Comment at www.issaquahpress.com.

On the Web
Mountains to Sound Greenway is seeking volunteers to help plant more than 25,000 native trees and shrubs throughout the greenbelt. Find a schedule of planting sessions, and enroll in upcoming events, at the greenway website.
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