Along Fanno Creek in the Tualatin River Watershed, a clean water project that began 15 years ago has resulted in almost too many “water whys” to count. The return of wildlife. Enhanced recreation opportunities. A stronger local economy. Better air quality. The list of benefits to the people, plants and animals who live and play here could go on and on.
An urban stream that begins in Portland’s southwest hills, Fanno Creek meanders more than 15 miles through neighborhoods in Beaverton, unincorporated Washington County, Tigard and Durham, where it meets the Tualatin River. Fanno Creek was highlighted in 1992 in the Greenspaces Master Plan, which helped guide investments from voter-approved regional bond measures, and laid a strong foundation for partnership and collaborative effort. More recently, working together as Tree For All, more than three dozen public and private partners have restored more than 11 miles of stream and 365 acres of greenways since 2004.
The creek and its tributaries cross private residential, industrial and commercial properties, as well as publicly owned parklands and natural areas stewarded by a mosaic of jurisdictions. Clean Water Services, Metro, Tualatin Hills Park & Recreation District, and four cities, alongside organizations such as Friends of Trees, Tualatin Riverkeepers and Cascade Education Corps, have transformed Fanno Creek into a place where people, plants and wildlife flourish.
“This transformation matters to our entire region, not just to the economy, ecology and community of the Fanno Creek Watershed,” says Kathleen Brennan-Hunter, director of conservation programs at The Nature Conservancy. “Fanno Creek is one of the major tributaries of the Tualatin River, which in turn flows into the Willamette, which flows to the Columbia and on to the Pacific. What happens in Fanno as it flows through Washington County affects people downstream in Clackamas and Multnomah counties and beyond.
“What’s more,” Brennan-Hunter added, “the lessons learned over 15+ years of innovative, collaborative ecological enhancement at Fanno can be applied to similar efforts along any waterway.”
People have been active along Fanno Creek since time immemorial. The heavily urbanized areas we see today have their roots in 1847, when Augustus Fanno made the first land claim in Washington County, starting a creekside onion farm. Over time, creek conditions degraded. By the 1970s, Fanno Creek was by and large known for invasive vegetation, erosion, low flows, and poor water quality. The healthy creek that people, plants and animals need was missing in action.
“Efforts to restore the creek’s health date back to the 1980s and 1990s,” says Bruce Roll, Watershed Management Department Director at Clean Water Services. “But the contemporary approach -- which emphasizes partnership and landscape-scale restoration -- gained momentum in the early 2000s.”
That momentum flows through Tree for All , one of the nation’s largest and most successful landscape conservation programs, averaging more than 10 river miles of restoration annually. Partners are engaged at more than 700 sites across the Tualatin River Watershed, including about a dozen along Fanno Creek.
Strategies at Fanno Creek have included streambank stabilization, floodplain reconnection, and enhancements of recreation and active transportation. Contractors and community volunteers have planted hundreds of thousands of native trees and shrubs, increasing stream shade, improving air quality and enhancing wildlife habitat.
Fanno Creek now boasts a diversity of forests and wetlands, from spreading Oregon oaks and tall mature ponderosa pines to wetlands full of sedges, rushes and Oregon ash trees. Increased dam building by beaver creates new habitat for other species. Fish and amphibians have returned, along with birds, including wood ducks, hooded merganser, great blue herons and white egrets.
And, as the pieces of a streamside regional trail have come together, Fanno Creek, once known as an overgrown, trash-strewn stream, has become a community asset, the go-to natural area for many residents of the growing communities just west of Portland. Tualatin Hills Park & Recreation District reports that the Fanno Creek Trail—which features a popular disc golf course and miles of biking and walking trails—is one of its most-used trail systems in Beaverton. Just downstream, the City of Tigard’s portions of the trail have become very popular as well. Regional plans, led by Metro, call for the Fanno Creek Trail to be part of an active transportation corridor allowing car-free travel from the banks of the Willamette River in downtown Portland to the Tualatin River in Durham.
The transformation of Fanno Creek is ongoing. At Fanno Creek Park in downtown Tigard, revegetation and trail work are slated for this spring, following a summer 2018 stream remeandering project. Professional forestry crews will install trees and shrubs carefully chosen to stabilize the creek banks and create important wildlife habitat. A few miles upstream, in Beaverton, partners are gearing up for a similar construction project this summer between Denney Road and Hall Boulevard. Revegetation and trail work at that site will begin the following winter.
Project by project, acre by acre, partners are working together and learning how to make lasting, landscape-scale change that supports clean water throughout our region.
Oregon World Water Day is a nonpartisan public awareness and engagement campaign led by Oregon Environmental Council to elevate the conversation around water statewide. The 2019 theme is: What’s your water why? Share why water matters to your life, livelihood and the world around us as we celebrate World Water Day throughout March.