The Mill Race: Community Interest on the Rise

Volunteers who planted 154 native trees and shrubs along the Mill Race in April of 2015.
Volunteers who planted 154 native trees and shrubs along the Mill Race in October of 2014.

The Mill Race waterway did not get much attention from the public during its long career as a power source. Recently, however, Corvallis residents have become increasingly interested to learn its history and improve its health and functionality. The Marys River Watershed Council has been focusing some of their energy around the lower Marys River, including the Mill Race. This spring, the Council unveiled two large displays covering 120 years of Marys River and Mill Race history, and held a public forum in the library, with a Mill Race history presentation by Dr. Phil Sollins, OSU Emeritus Professor of Forest Ecology and Soils. Dr. Sollins has spent more than a year compiling historical and ecological information about the Mill Race and will talk about this during the May 30th tour. The Watershed Council published a three part series on the Mill Race in their spring, summer, and fall newsletters. The articles touch on the history of the creek, its current condition and lists recommendations from the 2002 City of Corvallis Stormwater Master Plan. Recommendations include planting trees in the lower reaches, bank stabilization in the upper reaches, and replacement of the blocked culvert under Allen Street (1).

The stream does not have a very wide vegetative margin in most areas, but this condition could be improved by the planting of shade trees along the creek. Efforts to improve the streamside habitat have begun. In October 2014, 14 people planted 154 trees and shrubs along the east bank of the Mill Race just north of Crystal Lake Drive, on property owned by the City. The planting was organized by the City of Corvallis Stormwater Program, the Corvallis Sustainability Coalition’s Water Action Team, and the Corvallis Odd Fellows. Residents can watch the plants grow and know that they are contributing shade to the water of the Mill Race and stability to its steep banks. If you have property adjacent to the Mill Race, consider planting native trees and shrubs along its margin.

In September 2014, a group of volunteers cleaned 1100 pounds of trash out of the section of the creek just upstream from the Highway 99 crossing. The event was conceived of and coordinated by local resident Jeremy Colson. The City of Corvallis Public Works Department, Corvallis Sustainability Coalition’s Water Action Team and the Marys River Watershed Council helped him make it happen. Gazette-Times published an article about the clean up.

Jeff Schiminsky is a representative of Natural Opus, an organization that monitors sources of pollution and researches their effects on humans and wildlife. Natural Opus is studying data from DEQ about the trichloroethylene (TCE) contamination and planning to gather new data about other contaminants in the Mill Race.

Upstream from Hwy 99 by jeremy Colson after clean up
The Mill Race: facing upstream from Hwy 99 bridge. © J. Colson

A great deal of litter is strewn across the banks of the Mill Race near the BMX track. The City recently removed invasive blackberry along this stretch of the creek and plans to clean up the trash soon. Three OSU graduate students are developing a restoration plan for this area of the Mill Race. Their goal is to restore historic Willamette River backwater form, function, and process to the mouth of the creek. They will assess pre-settlement and current vegetation to help them make plant recommendations for riparian and wetland improvement efforts. Their plan is likely to include trash removal and installation of stormwater treatment facilities to improve water quality. Lastly, the students will survey the channel itself to determine potential fish habitat improvements.

We hope this series of blog posts has heightened your awareness of the Mill Race and increased your interest in the protection and improvement of this often-overlooked Corvallis waterway. Remember to RSVP for the Creek Tour on May 30th or Paddle Tour on June 13th, both from 1-4 pm.

If you’d like to read more about the Mill Race, the tour’s planning team has collaborated to present a series of blog posts on the subject. The blog posts are titled:

  1. Industry Generated by the Corvallis Mill Race
  2. Southtown’s Mill Race: Community Benefits
  3. The Mill Race: Community Interest on the Rise
  4. Ditch: a Mill Race poem by Abby Metzger

Special thanks to Dr. Phil Sollins for all of his enthusiastic research on the history and hydrology of the Mill Race.

References

1. Marys River Watershed Council (2014, summer). The Mill Race Series, Part Two: A Photo Essay, Glimpses of an Urban Stream, Corvallis Mill Race Winds through South Town Mostly Unseen (pg 4).