Editor’s Note: A couple of weeks ago, OWC and Cows and Fish staff drove out to the headwaters to check on our previous restoration sites. Are the willows planted by our dedicated volunteers surviving? Have people been steering clear of these sites and allowing them time to recover? What do they look like now? Our Outreach Assistants share some of their roses (good things) and thorns (less good things) from that day.
Every October since 2015, the Oldman Watershed Council has hosted a restoration event in the headwaters of our watershed - helping to improve riparian health at the birthplace of our Oldman River. Volunteers planted willow stakes along creeks to help stabilize the stream banks and reduce erosion, thus preventing excess sediment from washing into the creek. Signs and fencing - also put up by our hardworking volunteers - serve as reminders to keep traffic out of the creek.
2015: Dutch Creek
Many of the willows have survived and are budding along the banks beside the bridge. The signs and the fence are still standing in great condition along the reclamation area, keeping cattle and OHV’s from going over the willow stakes and into the creek. These willows are key to retaining the banks, which results in less sediment eroding into the creek.
When we arrived at the site, we picked up quite a lot of garbage under the bridge, in the water, and on the banks.
2016: Caesar's Flat
This site had many trails coming down a steep hill towards Dutch Creek; all of the willows at the base of the most-used trail had taken exceptionally well. This was likely because this area was low and close to the creek, so the soil was wetter, and it was shaded by other vegetation. This particular trail looked like it had once contributed a large amount of sediment into the creek; now these willows are helping stabilize the soil and prevent the sediment from washing into the water. We were glad to see that this site, although probably the most highly-trafficked area, had relatively little garbage around the creek.
When we were there the water looked extremely clear; this allowed us to see through to the stream bed, which was awesome. We saw that there were predominantly smaller rocks and pebbles on the streambed upstream of the trails, but downstream of the trails we noticed much more deposited sediment, though the water itself was still clear.
A bit further downstream, the majority of the willows planted along the main trail to the creek did not survive the dry summer of 2017. They had dried out faster in part because too much of the stake was left exposed above the soil. During future staking events, it will be important for us to trim the top of the willow to no more than 5 inches above the ground.
Last year, staff noticed that some willow stakes had been pulled out of the ground by campers who wanted to pitch their tent in the staked area, resulting in a large area of willows being cleared. Alberta Environment and Parks removed our original posts, which restricted access into the willow staked area, and instead blocked off the entire area with hitching posts. These posts have become very loose and some have fallen over or been broken. Moreover, the gaps between the posts have allowed OHV’s and cattle to continue to pass between them into the reclaimed area. We also saw a lot of cattle in the area and in the water; they had many crossings up and down the creek and had also created trails down the hills to the water.
2017: South Racehorse Creek
Last year’s restoration site boasted pretty good willow survival with over 50% of staked willows growing this spring. The sediment logs and matting installed by Spray Lake Sawmills are also in good shape along the creek. These sediment logs help catch sediment as it washes downhill, keeping it out of the water and building a soil base for plants to grow; ultimately, as the plants grow and shade the creek, this will result in cooler and cleaner water.
We couldn’t really pick a thorn for this site, actually. Because of the remote location and the rough-and-loose reclamation of the area, this site looks to have remained undisturbed by both animal and human activity. This is a promising sign for this site and should allow it to become more successful in time.
We already mentioned that we picked up a lot of garbage that day. Fortunately, we always carry garbage bags with us so that we can pack it out with us and help make our headwaters a little bit cleaner. One bend in the river had nearly 60 golf balls in it, which we couldn't clean up due to the depth of the water. We also spotted numerous bush toilets throughout the headwaters, all of which were too close to the water and improperly constructed (not to mention gross!). This might be a good time to mention the principles of Leave No Trace - one of which is dispose of waste properly.
Finally, if anyone is looking for an opportunity to show their watershed some love this summer, we noticed that the Atlas staging area could use a garbage cleanup and a weed pull. If anyone would like to spearhead this task we would love to volunteer our time to helping you!
YOU are our roses! Our hardworking volunteers’ efforts in the headwaters are growing steadily and making great contributions to our watershed health. These positive contributions help give everyone downstream better, less expensive access to clean, sustainable drinking water by decreasing the amount of sediment that is entering our water systems.
Be a part of the roses!
Join us for our Backcountry Restoration Event on October 13th, 2018 in our beautiful headwaters. It’s a lot of fun, and truly helps make a difference in our watershed!
A special THANK YOU to our partners and donors for supporting this important work!