For years, floodwaters regularly inundated a house along Johnson Creek at Metro’s Ambleside Natural Area in Gresham.
Decades ago, previous residents built a concrete weir in Johnson Creek and homes and other structures in the creek’s floodplain, the low-lying area next to the creek that naturally floods during high water. These and other changes by people reduced the quality of habitat in and along Johnson Creek, leading to the near extinction of once-abundant salmon runs.
Thanks to money from the 1995 and 2006 natural areas bond measures, Metro over the years invested $2.26 million to protect 28 acres at Ambleside with the goal of returning it to its natural condition.
This summer, a significant restoration project will go a long way toward making that vision a reality. Starting in July, crews will remove the concrete walls along the creek, a dam, a private road and an undersized bridge. The project will protect water quality and restore vital habitat for fish, amphibians and wildlife. Improving the connection of Johnson Creek to its floodplain will allow floodwaters to slow down, reducing the impact of flooding downstream.
“This is part of a long-term vision to restore Johnson Creek,” said Peter Guillozet, a senior natural resources scientist at Metro and the project manager. “Restoring habitat at Ambleside will create a continuous corridor for wildlife at Johnson Creek, connecting to other natural areas.”
Money from voter-approved parks and natural areas levies is paying for the restoration work.
The Gresham City Council’s Urban Forestry subcommittee has been involved in the process and approved plans to cut a few of the trees in the area to place them in the creek and the floodplain, replicating natural conditions with large logs that slow the flow of water and create better habitat. Next winter, crews will plant about 15,000 native trees and shrubs such as Oregon ash, spiraea, and red-osier dogwood to provide additional habitat.
“The plantings will help shade the stream to keep the water cool,” Guillozet said. “The work we’re doing in the stream will improve habitat for native fish and other aquatic species.”
Starting in 2014, Metro staff worked with hydrologists, engineers, biologists, arborists, Gresham staff and neighbors to create a plan to restore Ambleside, located east of southeast Hogan Road and south of the Springwater Corridor Trail in Gresham. The trail will remain open during the restoration work.
Last summer, crews deconstructed two houses at the natural area, as well as the private road in front of the houses.
One of the most challenging parts of the project was deciding to deconstruct the Stout-Schacht house that is on Gresham’s register of historic places. The house was built in 1902, though numerous modifications were made over the years. The house was deconstructed over the winter, and interior trim, windows, doors and lumber from the frame of the house were given to the City of Gresham.
The house was built in the floodplain, and it would not be permitted today under modern building regulations because of the dangerous, flood-prone location. There’s a 50 percent chance each year that Ambleside will flood. Most recently in December 2015, Johnson Creek flooded the Stout-Schacht house and completely covered the private road and bridge.
“The presence of the Schacht house in the floodplain prevented the restoration of Johnson Creek and its floodplain,” Guillozet said.
Efforts to move the house to a city-owned lot or to private property didn’t work out because of land-use restrictions and complex and restrictive permitting.
To honor the history of Ambleside, Metro staff worked with cultural resource experts and the City Council’s Historic Resources subcommittee and has documented the entire Ambleside tract. The information was submitted to the city, the State Historic Preservation Office and the Oregon Encyclopedia. A video documents all three houses as well as the surrounding property. After the restoration work finishes, Metro plans to install interpretive signage facing the Springwater Corridor Trail to share the history of the site.
There is broad regional support for restoring the creek. Organizations such as the Johnson Creek Watershed Council, the Audubon Society of Portland, and the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife have helped advance Metro’s restoration efforts at Ambleside.
The restoration of Ambleside is an important part of Metro’s work across the Johnson Creek watershed. Thanks to $6 million in voter investments, Metro has protected more than 100 acres and nearly two miles of streambank along Johnson Creek.