There are few better places to spend a sunny autumn afternoon than at the Twisp Ponds Discovery Center located at 53 Twisp River Road, Twisp, WA.
Located just a half mile out of Twisp on Twisp River Road, the Twisp Ponds site is a complex of streams, rearing ponds, meandering trails, public art, and interpretive stations that serves the dual purpose of education and support for populations of steelhead trout, spring Chinook salmon, and coho salmon. It’s a working restoration site, yes, but it’s one that is open to the public (as well as dogs!). With some sections of trail lined with willow, mock orange, and rose, and other areas passing through majestic black cottonwood stands, the Twisp Ponds provides a place for a lovely afternoon stroll, a scenic spot to sit and paint or write, and a wild-feeling site for children to explore, not to mention incredible bird-watching opportunities.
The Twisp Ponds weren’t always such a lush refuge, however. At one point the property was slated for residential development. But between 2001 and 2007 Methow Salmon Recovery Foundation purchased nine separate parcels from four landowners and in 2002 began riparian planting and other restoration projects, as well as constructing an open-air interpretive center to use for educational programs. Four more properties were added between 2007 and 2009, bringing the site’s size to 37 acres.
Rob Crandall, who has spearheaded most of the restoration projects at the Twisp Ponds on behalf of the Methow Salmon Recovery Foundation (MSRF), points at red osier dogwood and quaking aspen near the stream banks. “Those were planted about ten years ago by students,” he says, “and now I’m actually having to trim things back to keep the trails clear.” It’s a sign that the restoration efforts have paid off. “We’re in the jungle stage,” says Crandall, “which is an indicator of our success.”
The vision for the Twisp Ponds has always been one that integrated education and outreach efforts with the actual restoration work at the site. MSRF Executive Director Chris Johnson has long been a proponent of partnerships, and sees the public as a partner in the Twisp Ponds. “Chris felt like in order for the project to succeed,” says Crandall, “there needed to be community buy-in.” Crandall explains that as residents and visitors tour the site, see changes over time, and enjoy the trail system, they will support the project’s restoration goals.
Outreach efforts at the site begin early, with the Twisp Ponds providing an outdoor classroom for students from the Methow Valley and from around Okanogan County to learn aquatic ecology, natural history, species identification and life histories, hydrology, and water quality through Watershed Watchers, an environmental education program that integrates a science curriculum with art activities such as botanical drawing and storytelling.
Students get structured sessions with naturalists and teaching artists, but the Twisp Ponds can be enjoyed just as readily on a self-guided tour. Grab a guidebook from the kiosk, wander across the first stream, and follow the 1-mile looping trail in either direction; both paths will take you across bridges, through cottonwood groves, and past three public art pieces—Bruce Morrison’s “Father Flood” carving, Cordelia Bradburn’s “Blue Heron and Smolt” cast aluminum heron in the water, and Steve Love’s cast aluminum “Twisp.” A fourth piece, Dan Brown’s rusted steel “Bringing Home the Bacon-Salmon,” marks the entrance to the Twisp Ponds from the road. Artwork at the Ponds was provided through a partnership with Methow Arts Alliance and MSRF.
Native grasses whisper in the wind. Songbirds warble to each other from the dappled light of cottonwoods. Rose hips seem to glow in the mid-day sun. The splash of a beaver tail prompts frogs to croak from the riverbank. A kingfisher swoops over the water. A skim of snow on distant peaks hints of winter’s imminence, but for now the Twisp Ponds are an oasis of golden light and sparkling water, an ecosystem perfectly in balance.
Learn more about the Twisp Ponds here. (Photos above: Top, fall foliage makes the trails a vibrant journey; Bird boxes by Patrick Hannigan (Nice Nests) and daughter Posey line the trails encouraging visitation by a breadth of birds; Blue Heron and Smolt by Cordelia Bradburn rises out of a pond to greet visitors; Twisp by Steve Love honors the history and meaning of Twisp, WA; Bottom, students walk the trails. )
The Twisp Ponds is one of four semi-natural sites where the Yakama Nation acclimates juvenile Coho salmon from northwest hatcheries before releasing them into the river. These young salmon are small and vulnerable. The trees surrounding the lowest pond at the Twisp site, where these Coho are reared, have not yet grown to the point where they provide cover for fish, making the Coho easy picking for mergansers and other predators. The lack of shade in the ponds also stresses the fish, slowing their growth.
To increase shade and reduce predation at hatcheries, raceways and rearing areas are often fully covered with netting. This approach isn’t possible at the large and irregularly shaped Ponds site. To provide increased cover for the short term, we’ve installed four floating cover rafts.
MRC Monitoring Coordinator John Crandall, Independent Learning Center (Liberty Bell) Biology teacher Sara Mounsey, and several of Sara’s 9th-12th grade students assembled these structures from PVC pipe donated by the Omak Home Depot. These structures float on the surface of the ponds and are held away from the shore by ropes. Dead grass and branches gathered from the site fill in the frames to provide shade under the structures.
A Methow River Collaborative Project.
Coordinated by Methow Arts, the Methow River Collaborative is a project of the Department of Ecology, Methow Salmon Recovery Foundation, Bureau of Reclamation and Methow Arts Alliance. True to the Methow, the project uses locally crafted artwork to connect the very things we value about where we live: the river, nature, our community, art and learning. Find more articles, activities and updates HERE.