Harley Bowler and Meghan Connolly, Sisters High School students, conduct studies on the Wolftree Whychus Creek Discovery Outpost.  photo by Jim Anderson
Harley Bowler and Meghan Connolly, Sisters High School students, conduct studies on the Wolftree Whychus Creek Discovery Outpost. photo by Jim Anderson

The Wolftree Whychus Creek Discovery Outpost was not always the ideal conservation site it is today.

According to Forrest Babcock and Janet Zuelke, who live just above the outpost, the area below them was a scene of gunfire, nasty barking dogs and people living along the creek who weren't in the least interested in conservation, or being good neighbors.

One day the shooting, nasty barking dogs and lousy neighbors vanished and peace and quiet settled along Whychus Creek. But then came the real uproar; news that the same 58 acres along the creek was going to be used for a five-house development.

"Well, that scared the holy heck out of us to imagine a housing development in that incredible pristine canyon with a recovering river flowing through it," Janet said, and she thought of Wolftree, and asked herself, "What if..." 

Janet and Forrest began having people over to hike down and see the canyon and ask for their support. Then, holding their breath, they approached the owners and they agreed to sell Wolftree the property. Wolftree, seeing the potential of the property planned to obtain a conservation easement and named the site the Whychus Creek Discovery Outpost (WCDO).

With the help of a grant from the Oregon Watershed Enhancement Board and lots of fundraising of the local community, Wolftree took ownership of the canyon property in the fall of 2007. They still owed $270,000 on it, but the deed was in Wolftree's name, and could begin the restoration of the site.

They started with weed eradication and re-planting native species of birch, willow, red twig dogwood, and others. The volunteer work crews breeched the river bank in several places where it had been channeled and then began an education program with students from throughout Central Oregon.

Teachers and students use the canyon as an outdoor classroom, conducting watershed studies, geology lessons and aquatic species counts. They also conducted archeological research on the site where several artifacts such as ancient tools and arrowheads were found.

Rima Givot, one of the teachers who brought hundreds of her science students to the Whychus Creek Outpost has this to say: "The Whychus Creek Discovery Outpost has provided exponential educational value. Students that have visited this site have instantly developed a relationship with the creek and riparian area as well as the distinct and stunning canyon. The basalt columns supporting the golden eagle nest have repeatedly inspired students. This section of creek and canyon has stimulated students to learn and give back to the land through restoration."

When the restoration of the upper Deschutes watershed began in earnest, the WCDO was used extensively by fishery biologists from the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife and Forest Service to monitor water and spawning-bed quality. The various departments began planting Chinook and steelhead fry in the river shortly after that, and Wolftree partnered with several other local agencies to monitor the river in the canyon over the next few years.

If the story ended there it would be grand - but of course there is more to it. Wolftree still owes about $270,000 on this property. The recession hit soon after the original purchase, and Wolftree was not exempt from the pain. The organization was dependent on a lot of funding from the federal and state agencies that they are partnered with, and when those agencies began to struggle, Wolftree was hit hard.

All the funding they had needed to go to the programs to keep the mission of outdoor science education in the forefront, consequently, the property took a back-seat. Wolftree is currently working with Deschutes Land Trust, the Upper Deschutes Watershed Council and others to create the resources they need to finish paying off the land.

And this is where community support could step in; Wolftree could really use help in this endeavor to achieve everyone's goal of creating a continuous publicly owned wild and scenic Whychus Creek, from Alder Springs up to the headwaters in the Cascades. Wolftree's WCDO is a small but strategically important part of this goal with plant, animal, aquatic and geological, diversity and an educational site not found elsewhere on this river.

Those students who have taken part in the many classes that have been conducted at the outpost can testify of its value to the Sisters Country residents and natural history. Visit www.beoutside.org for more information about Wolftree and the important work they are doing and for information on how you can help save this incredible place.