Canyon Column 2: The Introduction of a Restoration Strategy in 1999

The catalyst for preservation of the Reed Canyon

Reed Lake is considered the oldest naturally occurring lake in Portland. It is thought to have formed in the late 1800s as a result of beaver dams limiting the flow of Crystal Springs Creek. When Reed College was established in 1908, the lake was already part of the land. Over the years, both the lake and the Reed Canyon have served important roles for the Reed community. In this article we will examine the introduction and implementation of our current restoration strategy, a project which began in 1999. 

In the last Canyon Column, we discussed the history of Canyon Day, and we touched on the maintenance—or perhaps the lack of maintenance—of the Canyon before the implementation of the current restoration strategy. For decades, the Canyon was overtaken by invasive species such as blackberry and ivy, and Reed asked students to avoid entering the area. But of course, that didn’t stop Reedies from utilizing the space.

The future Reed Lake in 1852. Graphic Courtesy of Zac Perry.

The future Reed Lake in 1852. Graphic Courtesy of Zac Perry.

“I know from talking to alumni that the Canyon was always valued, and if you talk to anybody from the 60s, 70s, 80s, or 90s, they’ve all spent great amounts of time in that Canyon,” Grounds Manager Zac Perry said. “As much as I may allude in our first meeting that the Canyon was broken and unsafe, it was, but from a student’s perspective, it was a beautiful asset to the learning environment that they’re in.”

The Canyon was still enjoyed by the Reed community but it looked nothing like it does today. There wasn’t an official trail system, and people would follow paths that others made through frequent use.

“You might have made your own path, which is fine, but having that irregular foot traffic, it creates compaction,” Perry said. “Maybe you step on a salamander. Maybe you step on a fern. And so by establishing the trail system that I did in the early 2000s, it gave people a safe way to access the Canyon that doesn’t damage the ecosystem around it.”

But what drove Reed to make that trail system and tear down the ivy? In 1999, Reed alumna Laura Wilking ‘65 donated $35,000 to the college, specifically for the Canyon.

“She said, ‘You can only have this money if you use it in the Canyon, and you can only have this money if you are able to engage students at every kind of crossroads, whether it’s the physical work, the research work, or whatever,’” Perry said. 

The same year, Perry was hired as the Reed College Restoration Manager, a title he still holds today, 21 years later, along with his job as grounds manager. In his new position, Perry began spearheading the changes to the Canyon. After receiving Wilking’s donation, the college sent out a survey, asking the Reed community what changes they would like to see implemented in the Canyon

“Everybody had a chance to answer, and it was everything from, ‘We should make it a park,’ ‘We should leave it the way it is because maybe ivy is the next progression of its natural transition with these invasive plants,’ and others were like, ‘Oh, we should try to support native wildlife,’” Perry said.

After creating a first draft of a restoration strategy to restore the Canyon to its former glory and support native species, the plan faced backlash from Reed Biology faculty who pointed out generalizations and flaws in the original plan.

“At the time, there were a lot of unknowns. There was so much blackberries and ivy, you couldn’t see the earth underneath it, so you didn’t know if there was a slope or a stair, or an up or down. It was just blackberries and ivy in every direction, and so we were making some generalizations on that restoration strategy that some of the faculty weren’t comfortable with, like, ‘We hope to do this,’ and, ‘We think it will do that,’” Perry said. “As you might assume, Reed is very critical in it’s thinking and likes to kind of challenge everybody all the time, and that’s great. That’s why I love this place, but it also made us have to articulate what the goals were in this plan.”

After some of the backlash, Perry spent time with biology faculty, trying to gain their support by telling them his intentions.“[I told the biology faculty that] ‘Even if we don’t know the final answer, this is what we think would be best. It’s better than doing nothing,’” Perry said. 

A pool was placed just below the Reed Lake for decades until its removal after the 1999 restoration strategy was implemented. Photo Courtesy of Zac Perry.

A pool was placed just below the Reed Lake for decades until its removal after the 1999 restoration strategy was implemented. Photo Courtesy of Zac Perry.

Bob Kaplan, the chair of the Canyon Committee when Perry began, was another key figure that opposed the original plan. “He was one of the people that said, ‘Ivy is habitat. These invasive plants provide food for critters and insects,’” Perry said. “And our back comment was, ‘Well, they’re not for native insects and mammals.’ Basically non-native plants attract non-native wildlife.”

Perry’s ultimate goal was to increase the diversity of native wildlife and habitation within an urban setting and reconnect the spring water to the lower stream corridor. The focus on Reed Lake’s role in the overall flow of Crystal Springs Creek also increased in 1999 when the State of Oregon and Washington declared Coho Salmon an endangered species. At the time, there was a pool below the lake, which was constructed in the 1930s, that blocked the stream flow, preventing the migration of fish and other aquatic species.

“It wasn’t just Reed’s Canyon and Reed’s water. There was all of a sudden a lot more interest in the regional or national or world impacts of preserving clean water,” Perry said. “There was this kind of social shift in environmental science to start moving more resources towards protecting the headwaters, and that’s exactly what Reed was talking about trying to do.” 

Ultimately, the restoration strategy was amended and approved. However, Perry believes it is not something that would be implemented today, and that its creation was a product of a series of coincidences and serendipitous events in 1999.

Since the implementation of the restoration strategy, the pool was removed, the trail system was built, the blackberries and ivy were removed, native species were reintroduced, and the list goes on. All of this work was done by Reed students and the Reed community through volunteer work on Canyon Day and student employees during the summer and the school year. Join us next week as we continue to look back at the history of the Canyon, and begin to look at the future of restoration at Reed!

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