Elijah Bristow State Park is a gem. It boasts 847 acres of unparalleled environmental and recreational riches located along the Middle Fork of the Willamette River just 20 minutes east of the heart of metro Eugene-Springfield.
Kayaking, hiking, swimming, fishing, wildlife observation, picnicking, trail running, biking, and equestrian opportunities top the list of the park’s favorite uses. Swamplands, grasslands, shrublands, cottonwood, maple, Douglas fir, and incense cedar forests — they all speak to the biodiversity of a park that embraces wildlife such as beavers, elk, osprey, mussels, lamprey eels, pond turtles, salmon, steelhead, and mountain lions.
“It’s the signature park of the state park unit involving the Willamette,” explains Oregon state parks manager John Mullen. “It’s the largest and most diverse with respect to history and user resources. People can get on the trails and just kind of wind down and get away from it all.”
Except the park could benefit from some major ecological help! For several years now, the state park service and Middle Fork Willamette Watershed Council have been spearheading a massive, long-term project to restore critical watershed resources and habitat areas at Bristow. Collaborators have included key public and private partners, tech advisors, and recreational users invested in the park’s future. Bristow’s history includes nearly a century of use by seasonal Native residents, early settlers, nearby landowners, industrial interests, park patrons, and others in the community — and some of that usage has fostered major declines in the quality of the park’s original floodplain and landscape. The primary goal of the restoration project is to reverse wetland losses that followed dam construction at Dexter Reservoir in 1950 and during subsequent periods of gravel mining on parklands. In coming years, the plan is to reconnect the river to the floodplain so it once again meanders across parklands and habitat areas.
Dov Weinman, executive director of the Watershed Council, credits the park’s new ecosystem trajectory to the questions and analysis provided by many key public and private partners, tech advisors, and recreational users. The goal of the stakeholders is to get at the root cause of the environmental declines and reverse it. “Ultimately, this is the opposite of a band-aid project,” says Weinman.