River Restoration In Oakley, CA Engages Community

The restoration of Marsh Creek | Jason Kabalin, Rich Walkling, Sarah Puckett

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The restoration of Marsh Creek | Jason Kabalin, Rich Walkling, Sarah Puckett

Like too many creeks across the country, Marsh Creek was “improved” by the Soil Conservation Service in the early 1960’s. Until recently, the lower six miles was a treeless, trapezoidal flood control channel fenced off from surrounding properties.

American Rivers’ partners, the Natural Heritage Institute and Friends of Marsh Creek Watershed, worked with the City of Oakley and the local flood control district to restore a section of channel and reconnect the creek to the community.

Originally, a chain link fence stood between the proposed Creekside Park and the creek, but enlightened city leaders, Kevin Romick and City Manager Bryan Montgomery, saw the potential of restoring the creek and integrating it into the city park. American Rivers’ partners helped the city get a million dollar grant from the California Resource Agency’s River Parkway Program to restore the creek and integrate it into the new city park. This fall the Restoration Design Group restored 3.5 acres of floodplain habitat and planted it with trees. They also constructed a new bridge over the creek which links the park to a regional trail system.

On the other side of the creek lies a subdivision that had been fenced off since it was built. The developers obviously viewed the creek as a liability rather than as an amenity. Last week after the creek was restored and bridge was constructed, residents demanded that the City unlock the access gates between the development and the trail, allowing access to the amenities of the trail and park.

This is the only spot along miles of creek with trees and floodplain habitat where people are physically able and legally allowed to get close to Marsh Creek.

Residents of the subdivision are not the only watershed inhabitants who have been reconnected to the creek.  Last year American Rivers and our partners at the Contra Costa Flood Control District constructed a fish ladder over a concrete barrier in the flood control channel. 

The rains this year allowed salmon to migrate upstream of the barrier to spawning gravels for the first time in 50 years.  The restored floodplain habitat at Creekside Park will provide excellent spawning habitat for salmon.

Creek restoration is also changing the political landscape. In November Diane Burgis, the coordinator of the Friends of Marsh Creek Watershed was elected to the Oakley City Council. Other members of the group founded in 2007 have volunteered to serve on local commissions, and the group has become an important local civic organization educating kids and building community. A once forgotten flood control channel is quickly becoming a pillar of the community.

Creek restoration is reconnecting community in the Marsh Creek watershed and all over America. Inviting nature back into our parks and communities is a win-win proposition that creates thriving communities.