Johnson Creek, Portland, Oregon: The Restoration of an Urban Stream

See the article with pictures as published in Lato Selvatico (in Italian) here:

Rocco’s article- Lato Selvatico

By Dr. Rocco Jaconis (

Where I live in Portland, Oregon, is a 10-minute walk from Johnson Creek and its tributary, Crystal Springs Creek. Johnson Creek is a 26-mile (km 42) urban stream with origins above the city of Gresham, just east of Portland. Crystal Springs Creek begins life as springs on the Reed College Campus in Portland (poet Gary Snyder’s alma mater). Wild salmon, steelhead, cutthroat trout, and lamprey have called this watershed home for millennia. The wild salmon and steelhead juveniles of Johnson Creek migrate thousands of miles in the Pacific Ocean to return to their natal stream as pre-spawn adults.


Local old-timers recall days of fishing in the creek as youngsters. The natives recount stories of great fish catches at the confluence with the Willamette. But today, the big runs are gone. There were zero salmonids in the creek for many years, replaced by urban filth and toxics.


Recently I spoke with Walt Mintkeski, one of the original founders of the Johnson Creek Watershed Council. In the early 1990s, he would walk to the stream with his young sons to play in the wooded areas next to the creek. He noticed that his “home” stream was suffering from urban abuse and neglect from the community. He and some of his friends and neighbors were concerned, and this group of 5-10 volunteers began cleaning up the stream.


“We were trying to change the image of the stream from an open sewer to a clean, living entity,” he recalled. This rag-tag bunch of volunteers pulled out everything from old tires and junked motorcycles to a rusty, decrepit Volkswagen Bug and more. By 1995, the official Johnson Creek Watershed Council was born, and a paid executive director was hired in September 1996.


Twenty years later, at the council’s annual clean-up event in 2017, participation grew to more than 200 diverse and enthusiastic volunteers. JCWC’s events today include invasive plant removal, fish and wildlife surveys, culvert improvements and many educational endeavors, including the annual Westmoreland Park Salmon Festival.


The City of Portland, the Army Corps of Engineers, Reed College and many far-flung organizations have now joined JCWC’s efforts. These organizations have invested significant financial resources to restore the stream. The salmon and steelhead have returned to spawn in the Johnson Creek watershed. The numbers are modest, but a sign of success.


Much work still needs to be done. An urban salmon watershed is coming back to life. Our home waters, our sense of place and community are being revitalized.

How You Can Start Your Own Stream Restoration Group


Some tips from Johnson Creek Watershed Council founder Walt Mintkeski on how to get your own restoration effort under way:


  • Keep it local. Focus on your home waters.
  • Educate the community about the stream, the watershed, and its flora and fauna.
  • Create a positive vision of what the stream and watershed could be.
  • Partner with schools, and fishing and environmental groups to increase awareness of the stream and its watershed.
  • Put up signs designating the actual watershed boundaries.
  • Create events and other opportunities for community participation.


For more information, visit and


I would like to thank Daniel Newberry, executive director of JCWC; Courtney Beckel, JCWC volunteer coordinator; and Walt Mintkeski for providing information for this article.


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