Choosing A Better Path: Stewardship of The Metolius River


The Metolius River draws people from all over the country for its scenic beauty and world renowned recreational opportunities. The Metolius is also an inspiring outdoor classroom, providing accessible environmental educational experiences that are perfect for Elementary students, Middle Schools and beyond. Further, from a fishing and fisheries perspective, this cold and clean river system is an ecological stronghold for native Oregon fish species, including threatened bull trout, redband trout, kokanee, and reintroduced Chinook and Sockeye salmon (first time they are back in 50 years).  It is a special place that requires careful visitation and stewardship practices to keep it healthy for the future.


Stewardship and educational opportunities along the Metolius River matter to our community on many levels. This spectacular natural resource is truly an Oregon gem for fly fishing and hiking. Recreation boaters, birders, naturalists, and vacationers seek out the healing waters of the Metolius River for the diversity of premier outdoor opportunities it offers. The local economies of Camp Sherman and Sisters thrive on the visitors that the river and its surrounding area draw every year. As Oregonians, particularly those residing in Central Oregon, it is our responsibility to step forward and restore the trail, banks, and riverside forest of this ecological stronghold for the immediate future, but also to develop a mindset within the community of the need to preserve this special place for generations to come. In other words, our Stewardship Project is not just about improving a trail and stream side vegetation, but we’re striving to create a community of stewards committed to preserving this great place for years to come.


Like many of our projects, we are lucky to have strong partners to help us meet the diverse needs of this project. The Deschutes National Forest provided a baseline survey and identified 75 river access sites requiring restoration attention.  Fisheries Biologist Nate Dachtler documented over 15 miles and scattered sites on both sides of the river in need of restoration.  As he walked along the river and trail, the following trends and impacts were apparent:

  1. Sites were soils were smashed and de-vegetated, leading to a loss of riverbank stability and the  release of harmful fine sediment into the river

  2. Along the trail and next to the trail, there was a lack of trail definition, leading to additional erosion and siltation problems

  3. There was a loss in riparian forest diversity and cover needed for song birds and fish swimming along the margin of the river


To fix these problems and trends, we have been working with the Forest Service road and trail crew, as well as recreational users and locals to help restore the trail, stream banks, and riparian forest conditions for this river system today and into the future. We have been working closely with other organizations like the Friends of the Metolius and Central Oregon Flyfishers to engage a diversity of Metolius recreationists for the design, implementation, and monitoring of our work.  Our restoration methods include: re-routing trails to prevent harmful erosion and sedimentation; defining trails using rocks and logs to develop consistent usage; native species plantings at sensitive riparian areas; and lastly, monitoring efforts both before and after the extensive restoration work has taken place. Each individual site requires specific methods to design and implement our restoration.  To design the sites effectively, and to include a diversity of users who can help us care for these sites into the future, we are engaging a diversity of audiences to meet our goals.


Trout Unlimited (TU) is best known for our watershed restoration work, we however have staff expertise and a strong network of educators and mentors to provide outstanding outdoor experiences that foster an improved understanding of our natural systems.  This Metolius Project blends two strong efforts, restoration design and implementation of 75 degraded sites through the Metolius River Trail and Habitat Restoration effort, and the integration of our service learning curriculum and school groups (The Metolius Stewardship Project).  We are tackling restoration and stewardship today and in the future, by empowering recreational users and our community in the design and implementation of the restoration methods. 


To develop a sense of place, which is needed for recreational users of today and the stewards of our future, we have made sure to include students in the restoration process.  Each classroom joins us for a field trip, and we break them up into small learning groups to carefully explore the river system.  Students and teachers work with our TU educators to study conditions and impacts, help to implement our solutions through planting native vegetation, placing natural debris to stabilize the river banks, and defining areas for recreation and areas to protect and restore.  The Forest Service has a wealth of professional biologists, trail crew, and restoration practitioners, and most have the abilities to be outstanding educational mentors.  Our service learning curriculum includes a “hands-on” project that will provide a unique opportunity for participants to hone their problem-solving skills through authentic studies of a beautiful and engaging river. Participants are then better prepared to make their own choices about how they interact with the environment and society.  By integrating proven service learning methods with watershed restoration, we can empower students, teachers and mentors to directly study this special river system, and become stewards to support the ecological, community and economic health.