Willow Creek Restoration


King County, together with other Counties in the Pacific Northwest, is spending a significant amount of money annually on watershed restoration and stream habitat improvement. Unfortunately, the streams in urban, densely developed areas remain a lower priority in hierarchy of the State watershed restoration plans. 

This situation, however, does not preclude either concerned groups of citizen or property owners to start their own efforts for restoration of the portion of watershed located on their property or in their neighborhood. We, Ravenna Woods Condominium Association, consider ourselves to be one of such groups; therefore we developed a project, “Willow Creek Restoration”.

We plan to create a small wildlife refuge in the middle of the city, a diversified micro-environment attractive to residential fish and birds.

The aim of this project is to restore the portion of Willow Creek approx. 300 ft from NE 89th St to NE 92nd St along Ravenna Ave NE. We will increase the water flow by narrowing the channel in the middle part of the creek using a variety of techniques. Increased water flow is expected to reduce sediment already in the channel while we will prevent excess new sediment going into the creek on and off our property. We will continue removing invasive plants such as ivy, bamboo and yellow iris from the slopes and water, and replant the slopes with native plants such as salal, Oregon grape, and a number of other species.

We hope that this work on creek restoration, combined with the efforts of our neighbors upstream, and the city of Seattle downstream, will encourage some residential fish and wildlife to return to our part of the creek.

The approximately 300 foot long portion of Willow creek, a tributary of Thornton Creek runs in the middle of Ravenna Woods Condominium property at 2300 NE 89th St, between three buildings erected in 1982. Although the narrow space around the creek had been designated and maintained as protected buffer area, there was not enough attention paid to the stream channel and slopes. As a result, the slopes erosion during the rainy season and uncontrolled growth of the invasive plants are chocking the flow of water.

A substantial part of Willow creek is under the shade of two huge willow trees that are limbed and pruned regularly to let filtered light in. Plants on the creek’s slopes include both native vegetation such as dogwood thickets, rhododendrons and sword ferns, and alien invasive plants and weeds such as bamboo thicket, yellow iris and ivy, chocking the water flow and propagating uncontrollably. Streamside plantings are thick and chest high at the upstream end toward NE 89th St to provide a people barrier, then continue to decline in height. Past the last bldg, grass lines the creek. This portion of the creek receives almost full day sun. Beneath and between the rhododendrons and other ornamentals, like day lilies, the ground is mostly bare. The open grassy bank section is flat and marshy. The slope height declines from three feet tall at the upstream end to less than a foot tall at the downstream end; stream width follows a similar pattern, except that with each passing year the stream becomes shallower and wider because of slope erosion and excessive sediment deposition, and flow velocity declines while the marshy part of the creak increases.

The abundant wildlife we witnessed around the creek: raccoons, squirrels, opossums, mallards and a number of bird species, such as Anna hummingbirds, American robin, American goldfinch and many others are still around, although observed less frequently. Mallards that used to winter in our creek and even hatched their eggs there, all but disappeared because the creek became too shallow for them to swim in. Only American crow and squirrels seem to thrive as before.

We strongly feel that habitat conservation initiated by us will be beneficial not only for about 50 people living in Ravenna Woods Condominium but also for the whole neighborhood of Maple Leaf around us, as well as for attracting back the wild life, as did similar projects on creeks restoration done on a greater scale by the City of Seattle at the NE 100 th St, and in the Meadowbrook neighborhood, both downstream from us. Fish already have returned to these streams.

Last year we hired a landscape architect for landscaping assistance and Restoration Logistics Co. for evaluation of channel flow velocity, depth and other parameters necessary to restore the creek water channel and its slopes. The cost of the whole project will reach $10,000-15,000 not including volunteer labor. Our Condominium Association lacks the funds necessary to accomplish such project; therefore we have to apply for grants to the King County Water and Land Resources Division and other sources.

In 2004 we applied for a grant of $15,000 to the Department of Fish and Wildlife (King County Salmon Fund) and were told, that while our grant proposal was top-level one and would otherwise have been fully funded, they couldn’t award us the money due to two man-made barriers on city property downstream from us. The City of Seattle has no plans in place at this time to remove those barriers. The barriers are insurmountable to returning migratory salmon but do not preclude either residential trout or some other fish from inhabiting our part of the Willow creek.

This year we have applied for a small grant ($500) from King County Water and Land Resources Division that we could use to buy native plants. We were informed that our application was approved by a review panel. We also have plans to apply for a much larger grant in the future so that we can proceed with further stream restoration plans on the channel itself.

During the spring and autumn of 2004 the volunteers of Ravenna Woods already started replanting slopes with the native plants suggested by Washington Native Plant Society and Audubon Society. We planted about sixty plants, these included salal; bunchberry; low Oregon grape; deer fern; bleeding heart and dogwood. This month (September 2005) we added several plants such as black twinberry, thimble berry, and Nootka rose. The planting was done through the mesh we covered the slopes with and took place in different sections of the creek depending on the light and moisture available. 

When the money becomes available, we will be doing the next phase of replanting slopes in sections of 20-50 feet of stream length at a time, placing the plants more closely together where the slopes are steepest and erosion most evident. We plan to order the shrubs from King County Conservation District this November, get them in March, and do the planting with volunteers from Ravenna Woods Condos. We hope that the diverse mix of riparian vegetation will make banks relatively stable and at the same time attract more bird species.

The volunteers from Ravenna Woods are also covering level areas around the creek with bark mulch (small-nugget size). This will help the soil retain more moisture and keep weeds out.

We are very much interested in wider involvement of people from Ravenna Woods and the neighborhood community in our project of Willow Creek Restoration. When implementing this project, we will keep it highly visible for people from the Maple Leaf neighborhood and follow its development on this website. We will make the results available on request to any interested citizen or student group in our neighborhood, especially to the students of University Prep High School involved in a similar project on Willow creek at NE 86th St upstream of our property, to the Alliance of Meadowbrook downstream from us at a tributary of Thornton creek, to the Thornton Creek Alliance, and the City of Seattle.