Discovering Oak Creek by Bike

Bald Hill hayfield © H. Crosson
Hayfield at Bald Hill: one of the vistas admired by Oak Creek tour participants.

On Saturday, June 7th, 25 enthusiastic bicyclists pedaled their way through time and history on the annual Urban Creek Tour sponsored by the Benton Soil and Water Conservation District and its partners (Corvallis Sustainability Coalition, Marys Peak Group of the Sierra Club, and City of Corvallis). Featured stops along the way included fascinating presentations about Oak Creek, past and present, by experts from OSU College Forests, Greenbelt Land Trust, OSU Oak Creek Center for Urban Horticulture, and Marys River Watershed Council. It was a terrific way to spend a beautiful spring day in the Willamette Valley!

Did you know that the Oak Creek Watershed covers 8,300 acres, with 40% being managed by OSU, 258 acres zoned for agriculture, and 450 acres paved? In the 1870s a carding mill was located along the upper reaches of Oak Creek, and by the 1920s there were also three lumber mills in the vicinity. Prior to European settlement the Kalapuya lived in the area and maintained the surrounding prairies and oak savannas with periodic burning which diversified habitat and concentrated game.

The bike tour started at the Oak Creek Trailhead where Brent Klumph (OSU) discussed how McDonald Forest is actively managed for teaching, research, demonstration, and recreation. Jeff Baker (Greenbelt Land Trust) was the speaker for stop #2 where he talked about Bald Hill Farm’s history from the mid-1800s when it was homesteaded by the Mulkey brothers, to what the future holds as the Greenbelt Land Trust prepares a long range management plan for the farm. Bald Hill Farm is located along Oak Creek, and one of its tributaries, Mulkey Creek, flows across the farm. Plans include protecting and enhancing functioning habitats along Mulkey Creek and restoring degraded prairie and savanna.  Participants on the tour got to see fresh beaver activity near the Oak Creek entrance to Bald Hill!

Stop #3 showcased some exciting restoration work happening along Oak Creek at the OSU Oak Creek Center for Urban Horticulture. John Lambrinos (OSU) led a tour of this learning laboratory and discussed how the riparian area is being restored through management of Himalayan blackberry, English ivy, and false brome. The riparian area is being planted with native vegetation, as is an adjacent small area of native prairie.

The last stop was the confluence of the Marys River and Oak Creek. Xan Augerot (Marys River Watershed Council) took the group to see the constructed chute that helps spawning Pacific lamprey and other fish migrate upstream from the Marys into Oak Creek. Oak Creek is the first significant tributary to the Marys that provides overwintering habitat for juvenile spring Chinook and year-round habitat for cutthroat trout. The tour wrapped up with everyone sharing what their favorite part of the day was, and some of the things they learned. Find out more about Oak Creek by reading the Oak Creek Tour Brochure.

Join the BSWCD next year for the spring Urban Creek Tour when we will explore the creeks of South Corvallis. It’s a fun way to enjoy a spring day with your family and friends, and a great excuse to tune up your bike and get it ready for summer riding!

Jeff Baker (GLT) and Heath Keirstead (BSWCD) © H. Crosson Dave Eckert at culvert © H. Crosson