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Failing dam at Eastmoreland Golf Course vexes Rhododendron Garden fans

by: MERRY MACKINNON - The dam at the Eastmoreland Golf Course which forms this lake is failing, and it will either be repaired or removed. If it's removed, then the lake at Crystal Springs Rhododendron Garden, which was created when the dam was constructed, would be drained.To many of the volunteers who help run Crystal Springs Rhododendron Garden, its lake, with the picturesque waterfowl and yellow flag iris, is central to the park experience.

But, for others who are working to restore Crystal Springs Creek's flow and water quality, the lake is an unnatural stagnant pool afflicted with invasive plants.

“It’s definitely a heat sink,” remarked Reed College Naturalist Zac Perry, who has restored the creek just upstream from the garden on the Reed College campus, which is where the Crystal Springs headwaters are located. Part of that restoration has involved removing a swimming pool and “putting the meander back in the creek”, so that its shaded, cool water is attractive habitat for endangered coho salmon, and other native migratory fish.

“But we’re only as strong as our neighbors downstream,” Perry observed, nodding to the west, where the creek flows through Eastmoreland Golf Course and the Rhododendron Garden.

A dam built many years ago on the Eastmoreland Golf Course plugged the creek, and created the Rhododendron Garden lake. Now the dam is old, nutria have burrowed into its banks, and it’s starting to fail, which raises the issue of whether to fix the dam – or remove it, and drain the lake.

For stakeholders, such as Portland Bureau of Environmental Services (BES), Portland Parks and Recreation, and Friends of Crystal Springs Rhododendron Garden, the sensitive issue of whether to repair or remove the dam – and the lake – is still unresolved.

“Ultimately, the focus will turn to whether the dam comes out,” said BES’ Kaitlin Lovell, Senior Manager of the Science, Fish, and Wildlife Division. “The dam has changed the hydrology of the creek, and changed its temperature.”

One of the volunteer groups that planted the garden through the years in partnership with Portland Parks and Recreation (which owns the land) opposes removing the dam and draining the lake. “We’re against it. This Crystal Springs park would be ruined if they took out that dam on the golf course,” insisted Kathy Van Veen, Chairperson of Friends of Crystal Springs Garden, and owner of Van Veen Nursery at 4201 S.E. Franklin Street. “It would leave a big mud flat.”

Eventually, more meetings with stakeholders will occur before a decision is made on the fate of the dam. “We have had some initial discussion. We’ll come back to it and bring everyone together,” Lovell promised. “We’ll see if there’s a way to fix the dam while improving the watershed and the Rhododendron Garden’s scenery.”

Added Portland Parks and Recreation’s media relations officer, Mark Ross: “Everything we do is subject to public opinion.”