News and Opinion from Sisters, Oregon

Irrigation project brings changes to trail

Most local hikers know that the popular Whychus Creek Trail has a temporary trailhead and parking lot because of the ongoing construction project associated with the Plainview Dam removal and irrigation rerouting. Introduced in 2012, the trail has become a staple for local outdoor enthusiasts in search of a quick, nearby trail getaway. What many local trail users may not realize, however, is that the trail itself will have some lasting — and significant — changes when the project is completed.

First off, the initial stretch of trail along the rim of the old irrigation ditch is already gone. In fact, the whole raised ridge that the trail followed is pretty much gone. A wide construction road for heavy equipment access now occupies that space, and trees and other vegetation have been removed in the process.

Because of delays precipitated by COVID restrictions, the project itself will be extended well into next year. A principal goal of the project is to remove a primitive irrigation dam that constitutes the last major obstacle for upstream-bound salmon and steelhead in the continuing effort to restore anadromous fish runs to Whychus Creek.

In addition to removal of the dam, the project will result in a new water-saving irrigation diversion that includes closed piping and a new fish screen to help prevent the creek’s fish from being siphoned off into irrigation waters.

For hikers, the project’s impact will bring some major changes to the trail. While the current plan is to restore the existing permanent trailhead and parking lot to it’s original location, there will be an entirely new trail leading south along this portion of the creek.

The biggest change is that this portion of the trail will no longer follow along the creek at water level. Instead, the new trail segment along this stretch of the creek will be raised, well above the high water level, to the higher ground where it will meet up with the existing trail farther upstream.

Undoubtedly, this change will benefit the riparian habitat at the water’s edge; although it will diminish the hiking experience somewhat, as it will take the hiker away from experiencing the creek in an up-close-and-personal way.

Throughout its length, however, the Whychus Creek Trail offers outstanding views of the creek and insights into the area’s ecosystem, as well as a unique outdoor experience along one of only a few streams officially designated as a “Wild and Scenic River.” Even though this stretch is somewhat outside the wilderness area and its “official” designation, the experience is just as valid for much of the route. The basic trail is about three miles in each direction and terminates at its juncture with the Metolius-Windigo Trail at that trail’s east-west creek ford.

The Whychus Creek Trail is most commonly traveled in a traditional out-and-back manner, but there are other possibilities. For example, about two miles from the trailhead, the Whychus Draw Trail was added in 2016 and heads up to the Whychus Overlook from a spot near ground zero of the 2010 Rooster Rock fire, which burned 6,000 acres east of the creek.

The Whychus Overlook Trail, in turn, connects to the Peterson Ridge Trail system. A new trail, completed just this month (see related story), connects the top of Peterson Ridge back to the Whychus Trailhead, creating the possibility for a new loop hike incorporating segments of The Whychus Creek and Peterson Ridge Trails.

To reach the Whychus Creek Trailhead, travel south on the Three Creek Lake Road (Elm Street in town) for just over four miles. The permanent parking lot on the right (west) side of the road is temporarily closed due to the construction project. The temporary lot and temporary connector trail to the Whychus Creek Trail are located about a hundred yards farther south.


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