Make the McKenzie Connection!

Three Themes: The Water, The Fish & The Boats

Water, Fish and Boats

The McKenzie River is unique. Dr. Gordon Grant, a Forest Service Research Hydrologist in Corvallis, Oregon has noted that H. T. Stearns in 1929 documented that springs flowing from deep volcanic aquifers make up the base flow of the McKenzie River. High (“new” or “young”) Cascades lava flows such as those on McKenzie Pass are less than 1,500 years old and function as great hydrologic sponges. Snowmelt penetrates the lava and is stored in underground aquifers for as much as 20 years before emerging in large springs (Tamolich Pool, Great Springs at Clear Lake, Roaring River Springs, Ollalie Springs, and the springs at the head of Linton Creek). These springs with abundant and forever cold (39-43 degree f.) water, provide the McKenzie with constant relatively high flows of cold water during July-October, a time when most other West (“old”) Cascades streams fed by surface water are low and warm. Because of the unique geologic patterns in its headwaters, the McKenzie is a large “spring creek”, not unlike the Metolius River. With characteristic high “spring creek” water quality and quality, it is no accident that the McKenzie has become known as a legendary trout stream.

Just as it was no accident that the McKenzie evolved as a great trout and salmon river, it was also inevitable that there would be a tradition of fishing, guiding and boats and boating associated with the river. In 2001, the Flyfishers Club of Oregon published The Creel: McKenzie River Edition which documents that tradition. This excellent little book describes the culture and lore of the McKenzie in such chapters as Guides And Their Wives; Drift Boats; Some Of The Fishers, McKenzie Fish; and Fly Tiers. In addition it sets out the mystique of the river and the fishing, guiding and boating tradition that includes the McKenzie River driftboat, a nationally if not internationally known symbol of the rich McKenzie legacy of river fishing, boating and guiding.

The McKenzie River was home to remarkably abundant populations of native “redside” rainbow trout and spring Chinook salmon in the late 1800s and early 1900s as evidenced by photographic and written records. These populations had declined dramatically by the 1950s from over fishing and other practices (DDT was widely applied by the U. S. Forest Service in the upper reaches of the McKenzie watershed from the late 1940s through the  1950s to control spruce budworm epidemics). The McKenzie and its fish are in transition and recovery. The story of that recovery is one of successful conservation partnership, and the success gains momentum each year.

Information about the McKenzie River water, fish and boats is at best scattered. It is remarkable that such vital pieces of the culture and reality of the region remain disconnected and uncelebrated. A Museum of the McKenzie River: The Water, The Fish, The Boats, at the Old McKenzie Hatchery could change this situation. Time is of the essence as human resources and potential exhibit pieces necessary to a quality museum become more vulnerable with age.


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