From man-made mud hole to desert oasis
Cavender Wetland Restoration
A unique wetland along the North Fork John Day River is restored for future generations
Is ninety too old to dream?
Not if you’re Jack Cavender.
Of course, Jack had been dreaming for a long time before he turned ninety. When he and his wife bought their Monument, Oregon ranch in the 1950s, he began dreaming about what he could do with the property. The ranch was tucked on the banks of the North Fork John Day River and gave the Cavenders unique access to the river itself. In 1992, recognizing the lack of nearby public access to the river, the Cavenders donated a portion of their land for public use, acreage which has since been developed into the Monument River Park. Today it provides ready river access to the entire community.
But that generous donation wasn’t the only legacy Jack dreamed of leaving. He’d also turned his attention to an abandoned sawmill pond on another part of his property. When he’d first bought the ranch, he intended to stock the pond with game fish and turn it into a personal fishing hole. But a record flood in the winter of 1964-1965 changed all that. The flood deposited more than six feet of silt and debris into Jack’s would-be fishing hole.
A New Dream Takes Shape
Jack soon recognized new potential for the old mill pond. He set aside the area and allowed it to transition into an emergent wetland—a unique environment in the high desert climate of the area. As a conservation advocate, Jack’s dream saw the ten-acre wetland evolve into a rare and welcome habitat for scores of bird and reptile species, as well as river otter, marmot, beaver and mule deer.
The establishment of this Eden could have been the end of the story. But by 2010 (when Jack was ninety), changes in river flows caused a gradual erosion of the levee protecting the Cavender Wetland. Jack approached the local soil & water conservation district, eager—even at that age—to start a new project; in this case to protect the unique wetland he’d established adjacent to the river.
Cavender Wetlands Restored
The local conservation district teamed up with several partner agencies, including the Oregon Watershed Enhancement Board (OWEB). OWEB led the project team’s work to fix the erosion where it threatened the wetland. Supported in part by Oregon Lottery dollars, this project required two years of planning before ground was broken. The plan included new features to alleviate flooding, enhance habitat, and reestablish native plant species. Jack Cavender passed away in early 2017, but not before seeing this final dream come true. His vision will endure into the future for the benefit of his community, the local wetland species, and the environment itself. All while proving you’re never too old to dream.
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