[Editor’s note: This story is about a big win for the fish and other creatures that live in the Bear Creek valley and the people who care about them—Water Tenders!]

By Tom Beavers,
King County Water and Land Resources Division, Bear Creek, Cedar River and Issaquah Creek Steward

Several major tributaries flow into Bear Creek; one of them is Mackey Creek. Tributary confluences are important nodes for salmon recovery in a watershed. These confluences are known for areas of increased habitat diversity, nutrient input, and the abundance of aquatic and terrestrial species. These factors result in increased macro-invertebrates and fish abundance at these confluences.

When King County learned that the property at the confluence of Bear and Mackey Creek was for sale, staff jumped at the opportunity to acquire it. This property is located where Mackey Creek flows into Bear Creek near NE 106th St and is adjacent to the Little Bit Therapeutic Riding Center. Prior to acquisition, the site contained a single-family farmhouse, commercial dog kennels, and a heavily armored stream channel containing Mackey Creek. King County staff saw a lot of restoration potential on this property if it could be acquired, so the Bear Creek Watershed Steward applied for Conservation Futures and Parks Levy grant funding to try to acquire the property. The Conservation Futures Citizens Committee also saw restoration potential on this property, and they recommended Conservation Futures and Parks Levy funding for this acquisition. The King County Council funded this acquisition, and King County was able to acquire the property in February, 2012.

The structures on the property were demolished and King County staff from the Water and Land Resources Division put together a restoration plan. They envisioned restoring the floodplain, channel geometry, riparian function, and offchannel salmonid rearing habitat at the confluence of Mackey and Bear Creeks. The lower 270 feet of Mackey Creek would be restored by removing armor, re-grading to create a compound channel, adding large woody debris, connecting a riparian wetland with the channel, and planting native vegetation. Approximately 150 feet of Bear Creek would also be enhanced with riparian planting. The grading work began during the summer of 2015, and native plants were installed during the fall. Re-vegetation efforts on the right bank of Bear Creek are on a different schedule. The invasive plants, primarily knotweed and blackberry, are still being treated; the area will be planted this fall and winter.

The standing dead trees in the After photo are Black Locust—a King County Weed of Concern. Black Locust is native to the U.S. and occurs naturally on the lower Appalachian mountain slopes. They have been extensively planted for their nitrogen-fixing qualities and hard wood. They reproduce vigorously by root suckering and stump sprouting, forming a common connecting root system, and are very difficult to kill. King County personnel killed the trees because they invade disturbed habitats, crowding out native vegetation and forming single species stands, but the trees were left standing to provide structure and food habitat for birds and small mammals.

The property is administered by King County Parks. The public is invited to walk the property, but please be alert so you don’t step on newly planted plants.

There is more good news for Mackey Creek! If you follow the creek upstream from its newly restored confluence with Bear Creek, you will find it soon meanders through the City of Redmond’s Farrel-McWhirter Park and branches again. Some of the reaches of the stream through here have become rather degraded by human activity over the years.

• At one point the stream has become a marshy mess filled with noxious weeds, and no defined stream channel. This results in persistent flooding and sediment issues.
• Further upstream, there has been serious bank and channel erosion, with no large woody debris in the stream or pools
• On one branch of the creek, there are barriers in place that impede the migration of fish.

The good news is that the City of Redmond has committed to addressing each of theses issues over the next two years. They will enhance the stream at each of the problem areas and remove the fish barriers.
If you see work crews on Mackey Creek in FarrelMcWhirter Park over the next two summers, that is what they are working on.