A small creek that flows the length of John A. Finch Arboretum will soon become a better home for fish.
But that will require removing some structures built in an attempt to beautify the park.
Spokane’s city parks department and several other groups will restore portions of Garden Springs Creek with the help of a $154,000 state Department of Ecology grant.
The natural creek, fed by springs above Finch Arboretum, flows through the city park, along a neighborhood, under two freeways and over a small waterfall before meeting Latah Creek near the 11th Avenue Bridge.
The project will remove a small dam built in the arboretum to create a pond and a few footbridges that only have culverts under them. The bridges will be replaced by ones that will allow water to flow naturally. The dam to be removed mostly just created a wider portion of the creek as opposed to a pond, and it’s a barrier to fish.
The project also will restore banks of the creek in the arboretum to a more natural condition. Currently, many parts of the creek have mowed turf grass up to its bank. Volunteers will plant native plants and trees near the shore. The result, officials say, will be more shade that will improve habitat for fish.
Angel Spell, Spokane’s urban forester, said the work will improve Finch as an outdoor education center.
“This project is really about water quality and creating a better arboretum experience,” she said.
To win the grant, the city partnered with the Spokane County Conservation District, the Lands Council, Trout Unlimited, Finch Conservators and Spokane Ponderosa to provide an additional $51,000 worth of labor and donations to the project.
Work will begin next year.
Almost a decade ago, Charles Lee, who was an Eastern Washington University graduate student and now works for the state Department of Fish and Wildlife, discovered redband trout in the creek.
The trout may be the same kind that are native to Latah Creek, where Garden Springs empties, said Allan Scholz, an EWU biology professor and expert in local fisheries.
Scholz said it’s unclear how the trout got above a short waterfall near where Garden Springs enters Latah Creek. He has checked records of state and federal agencies and has not found any record showing that the creek was stocked with fish. It’s possible the trout have been in Garden Springs for thousands of years since the Missoula Floods more than 10,000 years ago, Scholz said.
Early pollution in Latah Creek may have helped save native fish populations in it and its tributaries. The waterways have rarely been stocked with non-native fish, which often overtake native populations. Scholz believes federal and state agencies may have opted against stocking Latah because it was considered polluted even by the 1890s because of agricultural runoff.
The result is that restoration projects on Latah and tributaries like Garden Springs could be a big boost for native fish, Scholz said.
“If we can actually restore Latah Creek, we ought to be able to improve conditions for native fish because there aren’t many non-native competitors,” he said.