Volunteers give Gold Creek a face-lift

Volunteers give Gold Creek a face-lift

Conservation Northwest / Nov 06, 2014 / I-90 Wildlife

Finicky fall weather is no deterrent for ravens and sprouting willows, and it was no bother to Conservation Northwest and Forest Service volunteers as they worked to improve fish and wildlife habitat at Gold Creek near Snoqualmie Pass this past October.

Armed with shovels and trowels, over 50 volunteers, including youth from Seattle Parks & Recreation and local middle schools, worked through rain, sun and cold to restore native plants as part of an effort to improve habitat near the new I-90 Wildlife Crossings.

The crew planted willows, spiraea, thimble berry and native strawberry plants, mulching around them to prevent weed growth. Volunteers also weeded expanses of Herb Robert and laid down mulch to clear the way for native ground cover.

The project was part of an ongoing mission to revitalize a former dumping ground for gravel during the construction of Interstate 90. Since 2007, the Forest Service and Conservation Northwest have extensively planted the area with native vegetation.

The end goal? Better natural habitat for fish and wildlife at a critical link between Washington’s north and central Cascade Mountains. And an accessible natural area where native plants out-compete invasives.

Conservation Northwest hopes to return Gold Creek to its former diversity to welcome animals such as deer and black bear back into the area. Creating useful habitat would help connect and strengthen local wildlife populations and encourage the use of nearby habitat corridors.

The project is still at least four years from completion, but the native plants are standing their ground against invasive grasses.

“We are seeing survival; we’re building on something,” said Jen Watkins, who coordinates the restoration of this area for Conservation Northwest.

Planting along Gold Creek also shades the water, keeping it cool and teeming with bull trout and spawning salmon, Watkins said.

Collecting in pools, kokanee sockeye salmon can be seen spawning in the creek right now, and the planting party was a great opportunity for volunteers to work alongside the critters they are trying to protect.

As workers planted willow shoots near the creek beds, the water undulated with the bright-red bodies of determined salmon fighting the currents to their spawning grounds.

Watkins said volunteers are making all the difference and it was great to see so many young people, as well as some familiar faces, turn out for the planting party.

This is volunteer Tito Martinez’s second year helping out with planting in Gold Creek. Martinez got involved in the program as part of a Forest Stewardship program he took in his home town of Seattle where he learned how to identify and care for native trees and vegetation. Though he missed helping out last year, he said he will be back in the future.

“I may not see the outcome in 50 years, but I feel like my work will have a real impact on this area,” Martinez said. 

Gold Creek is slowly but surely transforming into an interstate-side retreat: the cerulean waters of Gold Creek Pond and frills of fungus on moss all framed by steep Cascade peaks are now accompanied by fields of native vegetation. Conservation is having its way with the former gravel pit.

“It’s not a someday—it’s on,” Watkins said.

Want to get out and restore wildlife habitat with Conservation Northwest? We’ll be hosting more planting parties during the summer and fall of 2015. Sign up to volunteer here