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Delta Ponds A history of a transformed ecosystem in the middle of Eugene

A timeline of significant events in the recent history of the Delta Ponds landscape.

Story and Research by Ada Jackson, Cam Shultz, Bryce Dole, and Cody Warren

Archival photos courtesy of Lane County Historical archives.

1936 - The site that would become Delta Ponds was a floodplain predominantly comprised of farms and woodland. Aggregate mining by Eugene Sand & Gravel would not begin until 1942.

1963 - Eugene Sand & Gravel mines 2 million cubic yards of gravel between 1942 - 1962, leaving behind large steep-banked pits. The farmland and tree growth that once covered the area are gone. The gravel mined would aid in the construction of Delta Highway soon after.

1966 – Delta Highway can now be seen passing through the gravel ponds, along with further development in the surrounding areas. The pits have slowly accumulated ground and rain water but remain separate from the nearby Willamette River.

Before Delta Highway and Valley River Center mall were built, the east bank of the Willamette river was dominated by agriculture. The main farms in the area belonged to the Ayres and Corum families. In 1945, Gordon Corum discovered a new crop growing on his land which he named the Corum Sweet Cherry. The farms are commemorated by Ayres Road and Corum Avenue, each located within two miles of the Delta Ponds.

John Alltucker was born on New Year’s Day in 1920 in Exeter, California. Over the years he held many titles including first lieutenant, World War II veteran, and civil engineering master’s degree recipient from Stanford University. Yet, in Eugene, Oregon, Alltucker was known as the owner and operator of Eugene Sand and Gravel. Alltucker purchased the already operational aggregate company in 1959. Then located at the intersection of Broadway and Hilyard Streets near downtown Eugene, Eugene Sand and Gravel utilized the Willamette River’s rich aggregate resources.

One of the company’s dig sites included an area on the east bank of the river north of downtown Eugene. Mining at the site ended in 1962. Eugene Sand and Gravel’s quarries sat unused for the following 17 years. In that time, the gaping holes in the earth had filled with water from Eugene’s heavy annual rains. Additionally, invasive plants and animals encroached on the man-made ponds. This is when the City of Eugene worked with Alltucker to purchase the land. John Alltucker’s son, Kevin Alltucker, said his father was “the kind of guy that was interested in helping the city become better.”

Alltucker would end up receiving $801,000 for 88 acres of land that included the ponds. Then, in 1988, Lane County purchased an additional 8 acres from Alltucker for $31,000, completing the acquisition of what are now known as the Delta Ponds.

1995 – Development of Goodpasture Island Road and surrounding buildings have altered some of the ponds’ shape. Invasive plant species such as blackberries and ivy saturate the area by this point. Recreational use is limited due to poor trail access and illegal camping. Partnerships are formed between Eugene and organizations at federal, state and local levels. With funding totaling over $9 million, main restoration efforts begin in 2004.

2005 – Hydrologic restoration and recreational access work is underway. The inlet next to Valley River Mall connecting the Willamette River to Delta Ponds is cut, while Dedrick Slough can be seen flowing north where the ponds rejoin the river. Isolated ponds are linked by removing berms separating them. Walkways around the site are larger and visibly improved.

After 40 years left as unmaintained gravel pits, public awareness of the ponds finally began to grow. Multi- use paths constructed along the East Banks of the Willamette brought locals in. And although the area was still overgrown with invasive plants, some saw the potential for a fully restored habitat for life to flourish.

Carolyn Burke, a Eugene city planner for parks and open spaces, and the City of Eugene staff saw an opportunity.

Burke and the City of Eugene staff worked together to create recreational pathways through and around the area, providing the people of Eugene a way to view the ponds as a unique natural setting filled with various kinds of wildlife worth protecting. It would serve as an escape from the bustling city life, shopping malls, highways and car dealerships that fill the surrounding area. The community was invested almost immediately, said Burke.

“There was very little, if any opposition to the idea,” Burke said. “All of a sudden people started becoming involved and the funding we had never received before was there. So we started making goals.”

While the restoration plans began in 1999 as a partnership between the city of Eugene and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the formal restoration of the ponds didn’t begin until 2004. What followed was an eight-year project with over nine million dollar of local, state and federal funding.

Side-chanel habitats along the Willamette for rearing Chinook salmon were constructed. Steep, rocky banks created by the gravel mining companies were turned into wetlands and riparian habitats. 60 acres of invasive plants were replaced by native vegetation. Trails, boardwalks, pathways and educational signs were created so the people of Eugene could educate themselves about the local ecology.

By 2012, the project was considered a complete success. Today, the ponds teem with wildlife.

Herons, osprey, geese and ducks swoop down to the ponds catch fish like carp and bass that flail vibrantly in the early morning. Each spring, a small grouping of Bald Eagles, which nest in the treetops of the hilltop park Skinner Butte, join the feast – provided they don’t simply steal the catch of a much smaller osprey. Beavers construct dams with wood from whatever trees and shrubs aren’t wrapped in the protective metal fencing meant to promote the growth of native plants. Rows of Western Pond Turtles and the more prominent Red Sliders – an invasive turtle that, most likely, was dumped into the pond years ago by a previous pet owner – bask on floating logs throughout the day.

But to consider the ponds a completed public project is one thing. To consider it a fully restored habitat is another. The presence of human activity is seen throughout the pond – as it is in public parks everywhere – as a stark contrast to the flourishing wildlife.

Those who saw the ponds evolve over the years see it today as a great success.

2012 – The steep banks of the ponds are flattened out into sloped “benches,” providing better interaction between the land and water. Acres of invasive vegetation are cut and cleared while tens of thousands of native plants, trees and shrubs are inserted. The Delta Highway pedestrian bridge is built, providing easier access to neighborhoods east of Delta Highway. Informational signs are installed along the trail system. Major restoration work is complete.

2019 – Maintenance of Delta Ponds has been ongoing since 2012 through a combination of state, local and volunteer work. The area remains popular among recreational fishers, bicyclists, birdwatchers and nature enthusiasts.

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