The Wee Burn Restoration Project
“Burn” is the Scottish word for small stream and the Wee Burn is a tributary of the Salmon River in the Sandy River watershed.
Wee Burn Creek flows across the Resort at the Mountain, a local, high-end resort and golf course. The stream was channelized in the early 1900's when the golf course was built. This damaged the natural healthy course of the stream, as well as resting and spawning areas for fish. Construction of three small dams to create irrigation ponds in the 1930's blocked fish passage to the best spawning and rearing habitat on the stream. However, wild steelhead and coho salmon were able to hang on in sparse populations.
When Ed and Janice Hopper purchased the Resort at the Mountain in 1988, Wee Burn Creek was a straight-line, open ditch full of herbicides and pesticides, a refuse dump for heavy metal poisons. The Hoppers committed themselves to the complete restoration and enhancement of the wild fisheries that once thrived in Wee Burn Creek. Their plan called for blending the golf course and the stream so that the game would become more interesting while the benefitting the fishery. Since then, thousands of dollars and many man-hours have been spent cleansing agriculture chemicals from the system and restoring the creek to its natural meandering watercourse.
Fish ladders were built at each of the dams. When a new pond was dug, a natural artesian spring was tapped that provides cool water year-round for fish rearing. Now golf course water traps have become juvenile coho rearing ponds. Several hillside springs were piped to form an artificial spring creek which augments the summer flow of Wee Burn.
Hundreds of willows and other native shrubs were planted along the creek’s barren bank. They now cool the water and provide cover for fish. With the shade, there is less evaporation. Along with water from the springs, the creek now has enough volume to create pools with gravel bottoms and log-jams for cover. Where there once was naked, sterile streambed, there are waving water plants and all the critters that depend upon them. Now Wee Burn is a shaded woodland stream that ambles besides fairways in what is possibly the best golf course in the Pacific Northwest.
We took a tour of the Wee Burn Creek in 2009 and saw many small coho salmon feeding on the surface of each of four ponds. Ed, Tony and I watched dozens and dozens of one and two-year-old juvenile salmonids feeding in pools that didn't exist in 1988. Literally hundreds of fish were observed. These were all wild fish; no hatchery stocking had taken place.
The restored wild fish habitat now also serves as beautiful native landscaping for the golfers. Everyone wins.
“Environmental stewardship is good business,” said Ed Hopper when asked about how the restoration of Wee Burn Creek had affected his business. He went on to say that, "Golfers like the intimacy of being separated from other golfers. The stream corridor adds beauty and challenge to our course. And golfers like being part of the solution for wild fish restoration."
Fisheries can be won back, one little stream at a time.
Visit Wee Burn at the Resort on the Mountain.