Soda Creek and Sparks Lake Meadow Part 2

Letting Soda Creek Water Spread and the Sparks Lake Meadow Recover - By Darek Staab


This past year was a new beginning for the Sparks Lake meadow, and the restoration of Soda Creek.  Trout Unlimited worked with Tom Walker and the Forest Service to allow Soda Creek to once again flood the Sparks Lake meadow, with watering spreading from the campground to Cascade Lakes Highway and the new moisture bringing a dry meadow back to life.  Fish can still spawn in the main channels of Soda Creek, but now frogs and wildlife can spread out and explore new habitat growing across the meadow.

High water was slow to arrive, as a wet and cool spring allowed the snowpack to stick around well into June.  As the snow melted and summer thunderstorms arrived, the flood waters from Soda Creek arrived and the water spilled the stream’s banks and found old flood channels, which had been abandoned by past stream engineering.  In the past, this wild meadow had floods and flood channels feeding an amazing web of vegetation and wildlife habitat across this alluvial fan.  Sadly after one catastrophic flood in the 1960s, the channel was straightened by engineers, and the wild character of Soda Creek was replaced with a canal providing a straight shot of water for Sparks Lake.

Today, the creek can once again roam freely, allowing flood waters to spread out into a diversity of historic channels and feeding the meadow with diverse habitat for fish, frogs, and wildlife.  As the high water was peaking, Trout Unlimited and Deschutes National Forest were back out on the ground this year to monitor results from our channel work in 2013 and planting with volunteers and a contract crew.  On June 28th, 15 volunteers turned out to help plant two species of sedge, intended to kick start the recovery of the riparian plant community growing along  Soda Creek’s banks.  Volunteers toured the project site, observed the lowered floodplain, and followed the summer flows as they spread from the main channel out into the meadow.  We planted 400 plants, and prepped the site for a large planting and caging effort to come the following week.  All told, close to 2000 plants have been planted, with a mix of willow and sedge species, helping to increase cover for fish and diversity of habitat for insects and wildlife.  To protect the tasty willow from hungry deer and elk, we  constructed 6 new cages, which will protect the new work and vegetation, and allow restoration to continue as the site settles and evolves.

As the summer has progressed, the water and everything it carries has been feeding the old dry meadow with new fine sediment and moisture, and the plants and wildlife are already starting to respond.  We kicked off our monitoring effort for the channels, meadow, and plants, joined by two botanists from Deschutes National Forest.  Together we laid out two transects and eight plots to study changes to the meadow’s moisture and vegetation community.  As we explored the meadow, which used to be rocky and dry, new flood channels were full of water. Plants and wildflowers were lush with the new water, and frogs explored the new habitat, which was provided.

With this most recent planting effort, we have completed phase 1 of this effort, and we are moving into phase 2.  Work to come will include improving the old barricades, which outline the Soda Creek campground and prevent vehicles from driving out onto the floodplain.  We will also complete one more planting during the summer of 2015, which will allow one more high water year, and for us to assess natural germination and recovery along the stream.  If you are interested in this effort, whether it is fishing the new channels and reporting back with results, or joining us for a future volunteer effort, please contact Darek Staab (project manager for Trout Unlimited –  We will be wrapping up our work this year with a fall outing, and then watching the snowpack and stream flow, with the intent of scheduling our last planting in summer of 2015.  Come join us.