Yesterday we got a break in the rain long enough for me to go check out the West Eugene Wetlands on my bike. I followed Amazon Creek going west out of town on the Fern Ridge path to see what the fuss was all about. Heading out from my place, around Friendly Street in Eugene, Amazon Creek is a ditch filled with trash and ducks that like trash. Not much to look at. Things go downhill pretty quickly from there.
As you continue west along the Fern Ridge bike path, you duck in behind the major industrial sectors of Eugene, past stinking mulch factories (smells like chewing tobacco and my garbage disposal), rusty parking lots ringed with barbedwire and full of ramshackle vehicles. The ditch is still there and there is some grass off to either side of the path.
From what I understand, Amazon Creek is the urinary tract of Eugene — these scrubby banks covered in invasive blackberries are the only defense against dumping Eugene’s toxic stormwater sludge into Fern Ridge Reservoir. At least they’re doing a good job of snagging the Cheet-O’s bags and toilet paper that would otherwise continue downstream.
It’s also one of Eugene’s only wildlife corridors. It’s one of the reasons this place is so important, despite the looks. It offers otters, foxes and birds a way to travel from the South Hills to Fern Ridge.
Things get a little more interesting when you start to get past Target and the rest of the retail bonanza. The area opens up a bit more and you see some of the rare “Willamette wet prairie” a flood-prone grassland habitat that used to cover a lot of the Willamette Valley, but is now limited to small plots of open space behind Eugene’s strip malls.
Once I got past Danebo Road, the wildlife really started to pop. Cormorants and herons stalked bullhead catfish in the shallows. Fat mallards and diving ducks cruised the creek. Fat nutria (pestilence!) munched on the banks.
The place won’t overwhelm you with its beauty, but there is a really interesting story here about unglamourous species squeaking by in the shadow of mega-development. A lot of conservation groups have worked together to protect this habitat and it’s hard to show people the value of preserving open spaces that dont’ have cute mega-fauna or stunning vistas.