Featured Stories

Other Pamplin Media Group sites


Dam at Rhododendron Garden stirs concerns

by: RITA A. LEONARD - The dam at the Crystal Springs Rhododendron Garden is leaking, and may need to be modified to allow migrating salmon access to their natural spawning grounds. Discussions are under way regarding making the renowned Crystal Springs Rhododendron Garden compliant with Federal EPA regulations regarding native salmon runs. However, these plans may result in considerable landscape changes to the Garden’s water features.

The Garden is partially supported by donations and memberships; along with the year-end membership renewal forms, Kathy Van Veen, Chair of the Friends of the Rhododendron Garden, enclosed a letter from long-time garden supporter Donna Giguere outlining some of the issues to be considered.

While the 9.5-acre Garden comprises dozens of natural springs and manmade water features, the lake there is not a natural one. It was created some 50 years ago through an agreement with the Eastmoreland Golf Course, which resulted in a small earthen dam adjacent to the 14th green.

Originally, the lake was created as a mill pond for storing felled logs from the area. Surrounding farms may also have used the lake for irrigation. Giguere reports, “At the time, the western portion of the lake was not channeled as deep as it is today. I have been told by an old-timer that the west portion was dredged sometime in the 1960's or 70's by the Eastmoreland Golf Course.”

The dam now leaks, and the City Parks Department wants to patch it to temporarily protect downstream areas from flooding.

The Endangered Species Act says that natural salmon runs must be protected. “We have been told,” Giguere continues, “that the backed-up spring water of the lake is too warm to support salmon. One of our suggestions has been, with a new dam, to pull cooler water from the deep bottom of the lake, as opposed to spilling the warm water over the top of the dam into Crystal Springs Creek.

“Another suggestion is to install a fish ladder like the one at Reed College. Reed’s fish ladder allows fish to move from free-flowing Crystal Springs Creek to [the lake behind] their spring water dam.”

If the earthen dam at the Garden were to be removed, the lake and lagoon at there would be drained, leaving a considerable expanse of mudflats. These in turn could encourage invasive Purple Loose-strife and Wild Yellow Flag Iris. In addition, the waterfowl that feed and nest around the lake would be displaced, with water channeled into smaller, spring-fed creeks.

Resident populations of herons, ducks, and other waterfowl might not survive such an adjustment, and could well abandon the Garden. In addition, the mudflats could become breeding grounds for a large mosquito population, and the beaver and otters that currently frequent the area might also relocate. Currently the Garden is home to at least 75 bird species, and fresh-water mussels and western brook lamprey have become species of interest there. Giguere hopes that City and Federal organizations will continue to include Friends of the Crystal Springs Rhododendron Garden and the neighborhood in the forthcoming planning process.

While issues with the dam are decided, in other news of the Rhododendron Garden, it has accepted stewardship of an important fern collection, and is acknowledged as a neighborhood botanic gem for its lovely rhododendrons, azaleas, and native plants. It is included in the book “1001 Gardens to Visit Before You Die”, and has many memorial benches and water features enhancing the grounds.

Crystal Springs Rhododendron Garden constantly changes with the seasons. For 2014, the Friends of CSRG changed the “free entry” days to Monday and Tuesday, to accommodate volunteer workers on Wednesdays. Renovation of the Jane Martin Garden is complete, with removal of deteriorating railroad ties, a new stone wall, widened pathway, and a refinished bench.