Project replaces culvert on McDonald Creek

It may get a little easier to live around — and in — McDonald Creek with the latest effort to clear the stream for salmon spawning.

A collaboration of the Grays Harbor Stream Team and the Chehalis Basin Fisheries Task Force has resulted in a $66,000 grant from the state Salmon Recovery Board to replace an easily clogged “double-barrel” culvert. The culvert, two side-by-side culverts that resemble shotgun barrels, allows an access road near the intersection of Wakefield and Marion roads to cross the creek, but backs up in high water and exacerbates issues for fish when the creek is low.

“In low flows, it creates a fish barrier because the water is diverted into two culverts. … With as low as flows get in McDonald Creek in the summer, that can be a death trap,” said Jarred Figlar-Barnes, an Elma teen who has dedicated himself to the creek’s restoration over the past several years.

When flows are higher in the fall, the water backs up behind the culverts and can trap spawning salmon and cause flooding. After the culvert came out, it was replaced by a 40-foot steel bridge.

“When we put this bridge in, we’re not only doing it to help the fish but we’ll also be helping alleviate flooding,” Figlar-Barnes said.

Janel Spaulding of the Grays Harbor Stream Team said the clearing of the double-barrel culvert is an important step in the longterm effort to restore the creek.

“It’s very important because this is the first culvert that Jarred identified that was a fish passage barrier,” Spaulding said. “When you do restoration work you start downstream and you work your way up, so we had to open up the first passage to get them upstream to where the better spawning grounds are.”

There are already fish taking advantage of the improvements made so far. In one pool off the creek, Figlar-Barnes counted more than 300 fish. “We found coho, cutthroat trout, and lots of sculpin,” Spaulding said.

Before removing the culvert, Figlar-Barnes and other team members “de-fished” the creek.

“We go in and what we did was go upstream aways and put in a big mesh weir, and it keeps the fish from migrating downstream. We put some sediment barriers in as well to catch any sediment from the project,” he explained.

The bridge will be about 12 feet wide, and able to hold vehicles.

“It will be for this landowner’s tractors to go over and cars, and he’ll also be able to have his cows go over to his other fields,” Figlar-Barnes said.

The groups applied for a $66,000 grant last year, with a $12,000 match from the Chehalis Basin Fisheries Task Force. The engineering for the bridge was done by Montesano engineer Fred Becker, and all the parts used in the project were American-made. Spaulding and Figlar-Barnes estimate more than 25 people were employed on the project, from builders in Colorado to local rock suppliers. It was a long process, but well worth it, Figlar-Barnes said.

“I’m pretty excited about it, we’ve been waiting for this a long time,” Figlar-Barnes said.