Planting for Fish and Floods

Reecer Creek is in the midst of a major transformation, thanks to the creativity and energy of the Ellensburg community. On the eastern edge of the Greenway, in the long valley between Manastash Ridge and Naneum Ridge, partners are coming together to reconnect a creek with its floodplain. Over a century ago, early irrigators straightened Reecer Creek and confined it with a levee, in order to run it under a road and open up its fertile floodplain to agricultural production. Altering the creek’s natural path caused a number of problems; Reecer Creek frequently flooded without healthy riparian habitat or its floodplain to absorb high waters, and the levee sent those waters into neighborhoods that sprung up after the creek was rerouted.

In 2011, the Yakama Nation Fisheries purchased the former floodplain land around Reecer Creek and teamed up with Mid-Columbia Fisheries Enhancement Group on a major habitat reconstruction project to set the levee back, recontour the farmed floodplain, and return the creek to its original meandering streambed. They added woody material to the floodplain and stream to create fish habitat and slow the spread of floodwaters, encouraging groundwater infiltration and cooler stream temperatures. All told, they created nearly a mile of complex instream habitat for bulltrout, salmon, and protected steelhead, which have suffered from a lack of quality spawning and rearing grounds in the Yakima River system.

Last Saturday, community volunteers turned out to further this important work by revegetating the floodplain. Mid-Columbia Fisheries and Mountains to Sound Greenway Trust recruited volunteers and materials, while Yakama Nation Fisheries and Washington Conservation Corps provided over 1,000 native trees and shrubs.

Volunteers of all ages planted trees, ranging from young children to members of the Central Washington University track team and longtime Ellensburg residents. They shared excitement not only in restoring the creek, but also seeing so many of their neighbors involved in a project to benefit their community and its wildlife. Donated coffee and pastries from local institutions, Super 1 and D&M Coffee, kept everyone warm and motivated throughout the chilly morning.

The Reecer Creek planting party was the Greenway Trust’s first volunteer effort east of the Cascades in 2018. With Nicky Pasi, our new Upper Yakima Basin Coordinator, now onboard and engaging with groups like Mid-Columbia and Yakama Nation Fisheries, we’re excited to be able to support more on-the-ground east side efforts in the near future! Stay tuned as we announce more volunteer projects for this and summer!