Soda Creek and Sparks Lake Meadow


Restoring Soda Creek and the Sparks Lake Meadow, By Mike Tripp

After years of use and abuse, Soda Creek and the meadow near Sparks Lake is getting some help and returning to the natural channel and alluvial fan from the past. Soda Creek tumbles down from Broken Top and winds its way through the spectacular meadow on the way to Sparks Lake in the Cascade Mountains. Restoration work on the creek and meadow is being led by the Forest Service and Trout Unlimited, with the help of volunteers and funding from the National Forest Foundation.

Thanks to Travel Oregon staff and volunteers, another phase of the Soda Creek restoration project was completed recently, with a planting along the creek as the winter snows approached. Travel Oregon ( works to promote and develop the touristic economy of Oregon, with offices in Portland, Salem and Eugene. Since they are dedicated to stewardship of our natural spaces in Oregon, their Executive Committee decided to show their support for volunteerism by showing up in the middle of a snow storm to help complete our field work this year.

The weather was blustery and snowy, and the road unplowed. Undaunted, 13 volunteers turned out to enthusiastically assist our local TU Chapter and the Forest Service. Over 260 willow, sedge and rush plugs were planted by hand to help stabilize newly restored stream banks. 2 acres of restored floodplain were seeded with a mix of 8 plants: including sedges, grasses, lupine, yarrow and phaselia.

Soda Creek is one of several streams feeding Sparks Lake, in remarkable scenery tucked between Mt Bachelor, the Three Sisters and Broken Top. While there are no fish native to these waters, Eastern Brooks and Cutthroats have become established after prior stockings. To help conserve fish in the creek, volunteers even helped the Forest Service move fish out of the construction area, before the channel and floodplain were impacted.

Sadly, Soda Creek has a long history of manipulation, and hopefully this will be the last project to improve the stream’s function and allow it to once again meander freely through the meadow. After floods in the 1960s, the channel was straightened to clear debris; the popular flood management strategy in those days. Channel flows were further compromised by ditching for meadow grazing; fortunately the Forest Service canceled grazing permits in the 1990s. Initial efforts in 1997 to re-meander the creek led inadvertently to a constrained channel, which couldn’t feed some areas of the meadow and dumped water down the campground road during high flows, bypassing some of the wetlands which have been drying out.

This project keeps the meandering character of the channel, provides for overflow channels during high flow events which should deliver water to dried wetlands, creates a secondary channel in the old roadway and ditches, and closes irrigation ditches with plugs designed to create ponding. Eventually the work should re-create the alluvial fan and wetland meadow, allowing water to once again access historic flood channels and providing improved habitat for a diversity of fish and wildlife.

Our partnership between Trout Unlimited and the Forest Service has brought together a great mix of staff expertise and hearty volunteers, and enabled a productive effort this year to complete restoration of the creek and meadow. More work is planned for 2014, including caging of willows to limit deer and elk browse and planting of over 2000 additional plants. After we complete our final planting in 2014, we will shift back into monitoring the health of the stream and meadow, through scientific study and fishing the newly restored pools and stream banks. Make sure to join us on a future outing.

M. Tripp, Conservation Chair, Deschutes Chapter