A creek flows free

A collapsed bridge once blocked the original crossing at this site over Taylor Creek in Siskiyou County, California. Today, after debris removal and  stream channel and bank restoration, this creek flows free.  The collaborative project between the Service and local partners led to a new crossing being constructed, restoring fish migration access to the upper reaches of the creek and access to the private landowner's cabin on the other side. Credit: Salmon River Restoration Council

“We had to do something for the fish, help them get downstream ... I knew this was going to be more involved than a simple fix to the old bridge, and there was no way we could do it alone.”

– Dick Bruce, private landowner

By Susan Sawyer
June 1, 2018

Imagine you are a young steelhead trout following your instinct to swim 100 miles to the ocean, only to have the journey cut short by a collapsed bridge in the creek. Where’s a fish to go?

This scenario played out when a portion of Taylor Creek in remote Siskiyou County became impassable by a crossing that had fallen into the stream.

In the summer of 2012, a survey crew from the Salmon River Restoration Council discovered the blockage and informed the landowners. Dick Bruce, a member of one of two families who own the property, said there was no question about what needed to be done.

Over time, debris accumulation from a series of home-built bridges crossing Taylor Creek in Siskiyou County, California, blocked access tot he upper reaches of the creek.  Credit: Salmon River Restoration Council

“We had to do something for the fish, help them get downstream,” he said. “But I knew this was going to be more involved than a simple fix to the old bridge, and there was no way we could do it alone.”

Built more than 30 years ago, the first crossing was for small vehicles to drive over to a cabin on the other side. As storms damaged the rickety bridge through the years, the owners pieced it back together, making it larger to support heavier vehicles.

Over time, the home-made structure suffered further damage. Eventually the owners downsized to a wooden foot bridge to reach the cabin, but severe floods and eroding streambanks took their toll, resulting in a growing debris pile in the creek below.

When it finally fell, the culvert underneath was crushed, restricting the flow to a trickle. This effectively trapped juvenile fish above and kept spawning adult fish below the structure.

Ryan Fogerty, a senior biologist for the Yreka, California Fish and Wildlife Office was approached by the council in 2014 about a partner project to remove the barrier, stabilize the streambank and restore fish habitat. Fogerty was on board, and planning and design began later that year continuing through summer of 2016. Finally, on-the-ground work was scheduled to start in 2017.

“The planning took longer than we anticipated, but we were a very engaged group. There was so much junk in the creek, it was a mess,” said Melissa Van Scoyoc, habitat restoration coordinator for the council. “We had to figure out the best process, which went from removing only the junk to a fully engineered design with permits and multi-agency coordination.

"We wanted to avoid a bridge being built later in the same place, which clearly hadn’t worked well before.”

Serena Doose, foreground, Service biologist from the Yreka Fish and Wildlife Office, nets fish from the Taylor Creek project work site to relocate them safely downstream prior to construction. Assisting Doose are Dylan Sullivan, left, of the Salmon River Restoration Council  and Alex Corum, right, of the Karuk Tribe. The council plans to monitor the site for the next five years, to assess effectiveness of the restoration, stability of the streambank and structure, and ensure native plants are thriving in this part of Taylor Creek. Credit: Salmon River Restoration Council

More recent high flows dislodged some of the material, creating a small passage through the damaged culvert, but if the young fish didn’t time their escape before the creek receded, they were isolated above the barricade.

Field work began in September 2017, when Taylor Creek flows are lowest. Biologists relocated any fish safely downstream from the work site. A temporary crossing was built for heavy equipment brought in by K’apel Construction Inc. of Burnt Ranch, California.

They expertly removed the pile of concrete, metal and wood from the creek, set the new supports and maneuvered a 90-foot flatcar bridge through the dense forest.

“It was quite a challenge to get that structure in there. The contracting crew was great about working in this remote area, and the driver did an amazing job delivering the bridge to the project site,” Van Scoyoc said. “This was the first restoration project I coordinated for the council, and it turned out really great.

“The team worked hard to restore this beautiful mountain stream, which is an important cold-water tributary for juvenile fish during hot summer months. It was very rewarding to be involved in bringing this creek back to what it was.”

Project team members conduct a final inspection of the work area and crossing on Taylor Creek. The project took about two years and $285,000 to complete. Credit: Lorrie Bundy/NRCS

Fogerty noted all of the partners who contributed to the project. “Funds totaling about $285,000 came from the Service’s Partners for Fish and Wildlife and National Fish Passage programs, the council and landowners,” he said. “Matching funds and services were provided by the Natural Resource Conservation Service and Pacific Watershed Associates who engineered the design.”

Since flooding caused the original crossing and culverts to erode and collapse, a new bridge and location were designed by Pacific Watershed Associates, with review by NRCS engineers. They selected a site just downstream, out of the flood zone with greater stability for the long, heavy structure.

Restoration at the original site included creating a natural stream channel and stabilizing banks with chipped mulch and rice straw. “We had great collaboration with excited landowners who really wanted to be involved,” said Van Scoyoc. “They contributed labor, materials and funding for the chipping, and were onsite support to the contractors.”

Taylor Creek provides clear, cold water for spawning steelhead and rainbow trout and their offspring in early life stages. The project aimed to restore steelhead habitat and provide a new area for coho salmon, which occur about one-half mile downstream. Work was completed last November, opening approximately 1.75 miles of habitat for steelhead and five additional miles for rainbow trout.

The council plans to monitor the site for the next five years, to assess effectiveness of the restoration, stability of the streambank and structure, and ensure native plants are thriving in this part of Taylor Creek.

“That information will be valuable to see who’s in the creek and swimming past where the barrier used to be,” said Fogerty. “If fish aren’t using the habitat upstream, we can determine why and make corrections in future restoration projects.”

The new 90-foot long flatcar bridge located downstream of the original damaged crossing. The entire project cost was roughly $285,000 and was funded through the Service's Partners and Fish Passage Programs, with contributed funds and services from the landowners, Natural Resources Conservation Service and the Salmon River Restoration Council. Credit: Salmon River Restoration Council

 

Story Photo

Susan Sawyer

About the writer...

Susan Sawyer is the Klamath Basin public affairs officer covering Yreka, Klamath Falls and the Klamath Basin refuges. She grew up with a family who instilled a deep appreciation of the outdoors.