The Trout Creek Conservation Area is biologically sensitive and valuable for education. It is off limits to vehicles. photo by Charlie Kanzig
The Trout Creek Conservation Area is biologically sensitive and valuable for education. It is off limits to vehicles. photo by Charlie Kanzig
Sisters residents new and old may be unaware of the Trout Creek Conservation Area (TCCA), a special parcel of land adjacent to Tollgate and Sisters High School, which is owned and overseen by Sisters School District in cooperation with the U.S. Forest Service and the Deschutes Land Trust.

The TCCA encompasses 160 acres of juniper and pine forest directly behind the athletic fields at Sisters High School (SHS), a conservation easement that was formally established in 2003. The acreage provides a venue for hands-on fieldwork for SHS students and is home to a variety of plant and animal species, according to SHS biology teacher Rima Givot.

Recent incidents and rapid growth in Sisters have prompted school personnel to step up efforts to educate residents about the need to protect the area.

Last week, a driver accessed the TCCA via Highway 242 and traveled all the way across the property before becoming stuck and temporarily abandoning the car. Motorcyclists have been sighted in the area off and on all summer, and large and unleashed dogs have been reported chasing deer and their fawns.

The new Hayden Homes development directly east of the property has added dozens of residences within easy walking distance to the TCCA, which has resulted in more human activity in the area. A packed gravel path built by Sisters Trail Alliance, which connects Tollgate to the schools, runs along the entire east side of the TCCA and is well used. Additionally, the popular disc golf course west of the high school skirts the edge of the TCCA.

Superintendent Curt Scholl and facilities manager Ryan Stock, along with Givot, all recognize the need to educate area residents and to take further action to protect the area. Plans are in the works to add signage at different access points to the property and to block off places where vehicles have been entering the property, which is mostly on the southwest side near the irrigation pond.

“We simply want people to be aware it is a conservation area and treat it accordingly, said Scholl.

Givot said, “This unique forest has become a long-term ecological research study area for our students, who have been visiting this area to learn about our local ecosystem. Students learn to identify native plants and animals, conduct scientific field studies, and develop a sense of stewardship in the process.”

Givot’s biology classes have been collecting data in the conservation area since 2006 which includes plant and animal counts. In 2006 thinning operations helped reduce the threat of wildfires, which was very important for the residents of Tollgate, and enhanced the health of remaining trees and plants, according to Givot.

The TCCA is home to two “sensitive species” including Peck’s penstemon and the white-headed woodpecker, as well as a corridor for deer, coyotes, and other mammals.

Some reminders for those entering the TCCA include:

• Stay on established trails.

• Leash dogs.

• Report any signs of motorized vehicle use.

• No horses are allowed in the area.

• Any activities that include soil disruption are strongly discouraged, including biking off-trail.

• Obviously, smoking is highly discouraged in the area due to the threat of fire.