By ERIC A. HOWALD
Of the Keizertimes

Mark Akimoff, an environmental technician with the City of Keizer, is hoping a new project undertaken by the Claggett Creek Watershed Committee will change the polling results from students he encounters on field trips.

Akimoff typically asks students he leads on educational trips if they can name the two bodies of water that run through Keizer. If he’s lucky, a handful can name Claggett Creek, far fewer identify Labish Ditch. Even parents are hard-pressed to come up with the answer.

“Almost every kid I talk to has seen the markers that shows where water drains to the river, but they don’t know where it goes,” Akimoff said. The drains most often lead to some part of Claggett Creek or the Labish channels and then to the Willamette River itself.

With the help of the watershed committee, Akimoff is constructing a Geographic Information System (GIS) story map of Claggett Creek that traces the creek from its origin and through Salem, Marion County and Keizer. The story map includes historical information about the creek as well as anecdotes from people who used it differently than we do today.

The map, which can be found in progress at arcg.is/2xi3PpF, includes information that many would find surprising. For example, the historic origin of the creek, which Akimoff places along south Lancaster Drive in Salem.

“As best we can tell, it started under Dick’s Sporting Goods,” Akimoff said. It was probably fed by a natural spring and had far more channels spreading in all directions before reaching the Willamette River.

Development over time had led the creek to find pathways through Salem that are mostly hidden. In Keizer, the creek is readily visible in most areas, but especially around Ben Miller and Claggett Creek parks and at the intersection of Lockhaven Drive Northeast and River Road North.

The creek also supports the ecosystem in and around it.

“There’s fish living in there, that was the biggest surprise for me. I borrowed a GoPro and put it in at a very sterile-looking part of the creek. It didn’t look like there was much going on standing back, but I put the camera in and waited for a few minutes and there was a prickly sculpin and a red-side shiner, both native fish species to the basin here,” Akimoff said.

While Akimoff started with the idea for a multimedia map, members of the watershed council embraced the idea and helped enlist the services of Salem Aerial, a drone photography business, which has added to the scope.

“With the aerial instruments, we can look at temperatures and depths, the types of trees and how they are impacting the bank of the creek, all those things critical to the health of the watershed as a whole,” said Matt Lawyer, chair of the watershed committee.

Lawyer sees the story map as another tool the committee can use to engage the larger community in the care of Claggett Creek.

“One of our biggest struggles is engaging people and partners like Salem in maintaining the waterway. The map will create a much clearer picture of the watershed as a whole so that we can see the impacts of spillage downstream,” Lawyer said.

Elizabeth Sagmiller, director of the Keizer environmental department, said projects already undertaken outside the map effort have made a difference. One of the major undertakings was a restoration of the Claggett Creek banks at Ben Miller Park. When an illicit discharge occurred last year, Sagmiller ordered testing of the waters north of the Ben Miller and found that the restored waterway had cleaned out much of the toxins.

“That little patch of goodness cleaned the water,” Sagmiller said. “The most important part of this project is citizens taking ownership of the creek and understanding the waterbody as a whole. The more people know about the history of it and the people attached to it, the less likely they are to behave in ways that are detrimental to it.”

To that end, Akimoff and Sagmiller are interested in those with stories about Claggett Creek and Labish. Tales of fishing out of the waterways to picnicking along it are all fair game. Diary mentions of the creek and how people used it in days of yore would be especially helpful. Contact Akimoff at akimoffm@keizer.org to find out how to submit materials.

“Some of the things we can tell by looking at maps, but the oral history is where it gets really interesting,” Sagmiller said.