Submitted photo##Local community members and students from Linfield College and Chemeketa Community College pose with a pile of invasive weeds removed from along Cozine Creek on Linfield Campus. Linfield is working with the Greater Yamhill Watershed Council to secure grant funding to enhance the habitat on Cozine Creek on campus, and to engage the community in service learning activities.
Submitted photo##Local community members and students from Linfield College and Chemeketa Community College pose with a pile of invasive weeds removed from along Cozine Creek on Linfield Campus. Linfield is working with the Greater Yamhill Watershed Council to secure grant funding to enhance the habitat on Cozine Creek on campus, and to engage the community in service learning activities.
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Luke Westphal: Care for Cozine Creek

While walking along the trickle of Cozine Creek at the end of the dry summer months, sinking boots into the silt and mud, and wrangling with canes of Himalayan blackberry, it can be difficult to envision how the stream coursing through the heart of McMinnville supports much more than snails and hungry deer. But if you look in the right places, you’ll be surprised to discover how much you may have been missing: beaver, fish, crawdads, blue herons, bald eagles and even fields of flowering camas lilies and ancient oak trees. Indeed, if only Cozine Creek could speak, it would tell us great tales of providing a hearth and home for communities of fish, wildlife and people alike.

With the headwaters of its main branch flowing down from the coastal foothills near S.W. Peavine Road, about five miles west of the city, Cozine Creek cuts through seven miles of forests, farm fields and urban development before joining the South Yamhill River near S.E. Dayton Avenue. Another 14 miles of named and unnamed tributaries enter the main branch from the north, south and west.

Prior to European settlement in the Willamette Valley in the early to mid 1800s, the lands encompassing the more than 11-square-mile drainage area of Cozine Creek and its tributaries were dominated by wide open expanses of grass prairies, edible wildflowers and scatterings of mature oak trees, with majestic boughs stretching out limbs to form umbrella-shaped crowns. And along the active floodplains, dense woodlands shaded the waters of Cozine Creek with stands of oak, ash, big leaf maple and cottonwood.

Guest Writer

Guest writer Luke Westphal

These park-like landscapes, however, did not exist entirely of their own accord. For centuries, the Kalapuya tribe of the Willamette Valley, like many Native American tribes of the West, actively cultivated and sustained these oak and floodplain environments through the use of seasonal, low-intensity controlled burns. Guided by an incredible breadth of knowledge, honed horticulture skills and prudent harvesting, the Kalapuya managed surroundings to produce the natural resources that enabled their communities to thrive. In particular, the Oregon oak was truly a tree of life for local Native people. The highly nutritious acorns produced from mature oaks could feed indigenous families for generations. Meanwhile, every other part of the oak tree had important uses as well — from medicine and tools, to basketry and firewood, to name only a few.

Map of the Cozine Creek drainage area The land that drains to Cozine Creek encompasses more than 11-square miles, including forests, farms, and much of the City of McMinnville. Cozine Creek’s main branch runs seven miless from Peavine Road to the South Yamhill River at Dayton Avenue. An additional 14 miles of named and unnamed tributaries enter the main branch from the south, west and north.

However, as settlers spread widely across the Willamette Valley in the 1840s through 1870s, these fields of prairie, dottings of old oaks and shady wooded floodplains were eventually converted into land for farming, homesteads, ranches and timber harvest. Camps of Chinese immigrant laborers were often hired by landowners to complete the arduous task of clearing the lands of shrubs, trees and stumps. Simultaneously, the Kalapuyan’s centuries-long legacy of controlled burning was discontinued, and by the 1870s the unmanaged lands became a denser mosaic of conifers, scrub-oaks and brush. As the decades have marched on, these Willamette Valley prairies and oak woodland habitats have ultimately been reduced to less than 1 percent and 7 percent of their historic ranges, respectively.

The first local land claim in what would later become the northern part of the McMinnville area was filed in 1844 by John Baker, for 635 acres, followed soon after by other early settlers, including Samuel Cozine and William Newby. Their farms primarily produced wheat, with some vegetables and ranching. In 1853, William Newby sought to build a grist mill adjacent to the North Branch of Cozine Creek at the west end of Third Street — where McMinnville City Park is now. Stream flow in the North Branch was not sufficient to power a mill year-round, and Newby engaged neighbors with the idea of digging a ditch from Baker Creek to the proposed mill. With the signatures of the affected neighbors in hand, a petition was approved by the Oregon Territorial Legislature to alter the flow of Baker and Cozine creeks for the purpose of running a mill. The original ditch was likely dug by Chinese immigrant laborers, and ran close to what is now N.W. Wallace Road.

Construction of the gristmill in 1853 is considered to be the genesis of McMinnville’s economic growth and community development. The nearest mill prior to Newby’s was in Oregon City, and harvested wheat had to be sacked and carried by wagon to Lafayette, then floated down the Yamhill River to the Willamette River, and then downstream to Oregon City. As soon as Newby’s mill on the Cozine was constructed, it began to draw local growers and new settlers. By 1866, the population of McMinnville reached 300, and by 1899, McMinnville had succeeded Lafayette as the seat of Yamhill County and the region’s primary commercial hub.

Over the next 118 years, the area around Cozine Creek was the site of intense urbanization as the population of McMinnville grew to 3,700 by 1940 and then 34,000 in 2016. Urban development drastically modified the Cozine Creek area, as roads and buildings were constructed in the wooded floodplains, and a network of underground stormwater sewer pipes were installed to quickly convey rainfall directly to the channels of Cozine Creek and other local waterways.
As a result of these and other historic and current land use practices, the biological, physical, chemical,and social characteristics of Cozine Creek have been changed and even degraded. State-funded water quality monitoring projects conducted by the Greater Yamhill Watershed Council (GYWC) have identified that Cozine Creek is water-quality impaired by multiple pollutants, including stream temperatures too hot for fish, dissolved oxygen levels too low for general aquatic life, and summertime E. coli concentrations exceeding limits for human recreational water contact.

Despite these concerns, life can be surprisingly resilient in Cozine Creek, and a range of fish, wildlife and native plants continue to call it home.
At the end of the day, the good news to share is how we have abundant opportunities to improve the health and beauty of Cozine Creek. The time to care for Cozine is now. In the coming months, with funding and support from the city of McMinnville, Linfield College and the Yamhill Soil & Water Conservation District, the GYWC will conduct several outreach activities to help lift Cozine Creek back into our community awareness. These will include habitat project tours, social potlucks and weed control and native planting workshops, as well as opportunities for volunteering for trash cleanups and habitat restoration work parties. The GYWC will also be reaching out to landowners and stakeholders to find those interested in weed control and native planting projects along their properties. Since 2002, the GYWC and its partners have secured more than $45,000 in state funding and local matching dollars for projects to enhance habitat along Cozine Creek. With the support of our community and Cozine Creek landowners, we are working to accelerate the pace of these efforts, and to meet our goal of securing another $45,000 for projects by June 2019.

Stay informed

To stay informed about upcoming Cozine Creek outreach and volunteer opportunities, please sign up for our Friends of Cozine Newsletter online at www.gywc.org/cozine or contact us at info@gywc.org.

Or if you are an interested Cozine Creek landowner who would like to learn more about funding and partnership opportunities for controlling weeds and planting natives, please contact Luke Westphal at 503-474-1047 or luke@gywc.org.