Doan Creek Restoration Project

Steelhead in irrigation ditch.
A rare sighting of a steelhead that has inadvertently gotten into the park's irrigation ditch, but there is no viable habitat to be found here. A restored Doan Creek will provide steelhead and other fish a place to live and reproduce.

NPS photo

Water is Life!

But who gets the water? In its natural state, Doan Creek offered ideal habitat for many species of plants and animals, including steelhead trout and salmon. Water is also life for people. Settlers diverted water from Doan Creek to provide irrigation for farmland. Doan Creek water was channeled into a straight, man-made irrigation "ditch," leaving the original streambed dry. But this wasn't the only stream or river in the area that was altered. Dams and irrigation projects decreased habitat and access to spawning areas for fish. Since the time of the Whitmans, steelhead and salmon have experienced drastic population declines and have been declared threatened or endangered. Water and the adjacent riparian areas are critical to other animals as well, especially in the relatively dry Walla Walla valley.

A plan to restore fish habitat on park grounds started in 1998. As the idea developed upstream water users also got involved. Today, the park, several private landowners, other government agencies, Whitman College, Walla Walla University, along with many volunteer groups, are working together on this project. Eventually there will be 3.1 miles of river habitat for fish and other wildlife. This will be accomplished while still providing enough water to other users.

Tall green grass recedes into the distance.
A deceptively lush looking field of invasive, non-native reed canarygrass.

NPS photo


Creating a New Stream Bed
The “new” Doan Creek was carefully planned and constructed.

Good Plants vs "Bad" Plants
Non-native, invasive plants can take over an area, excluding the native plants and providing less food and shelter for native animals.

Measuring Vital Signs
Water needs to have certain characteristics in order to provide a good home for salmon and other fish.

Water Enough for All
The park wants to ensure that all of the water rights holders in the area receive their allotment of flow even as the old Doan Creek channel is restored.

Ditch with two small piles of wood in it.
One of the first steps was to dig a new streambed. At this point it was only a dry ditch with piles of debris, but eventually these piles helped create pools and riffles in the restored Doan Creek.

NPS photo

An Ugly Duckling . . . For Now

To restore a stream takes time, and it is not always pretty:

  • Invasive vegetation gets cleared leaving bare land.
  • Backhoes dig naked trenches.
  • Future riffles look like random piles of debris littering the barren landscape.
  • Mulch cloth, used to prevent the return of non-native invasive plants, makes ugly black scars.

But, each of these necessary steps is temporary and eventually the awkward days of transition will be forgotten.

Shiny black cloth dominates the photo, beyond the cloth the ground is bare of vegetation.
Black mulch cloth dominated the landscape like an ugly scar in 2006. This cloth will helped prevent the re-establishment of the aggressive, invasive, non-native reed canarygrass. Eventually native shrubs and grasses were planted through holes in the cloth.

NPS - Renee Rusler

A baby moose under a tree.
This baby moose and family spent part of summer 2006 on park grounds. Moose depend on riparian habitat.


A Brighter Future

It make look ugly during the restoration process, but like the Ugly Duckling, a swan will emerge. The sound of running water will return, lush vegetation will shade a gurgling stream, and thankful eyes will peer out from behind leaves.


We can't do it alone

Restoring the section of Doan Creek that is within the boundaries of the park is a huge project. The effort of many, many people has been involved. The National Park Service (NPS), Walla Walla County Conservation District (WWCCD), and Washington State Fish and Wildlife Service collaborated on the design of the restored Doan Creek. The actual construction of the stream was accomplished in 2005, with the help of many volunteers. The project was supervised by staff from the NPS , WWCCD, and Washington Fish and Wildlife. The Doan Creek restoration is an example of what can be accomplished through collaboration and lots of hard work.

Four students and their leader plant willow and alder sticks on the banks of the new Doan Creek channel. The railroad tracks are immediately behind them.
In 2007, Whitman College students planted hundreds of live stakes of alder and willows. Some of these eventually grew into trees that shade the new stream. [The black areas are mulch cloth.]

NPS photo

students plant shrubs along the new Doan Creek. Tall willows grow immediately adjacent to the stream.
In 2010 college students help plant shrubs near the new stream. The tall green plants in the background are the willows and alders that were planted in 2007.

NPS - Renee Rusler


Written with the help of Kari Martin, Spring 2007 Whitman College water-monitoring intern. Revised March 2012.

Last updated: March 19, 2017

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