McKenzie River - Justin Hartney

McKenzie River

Becky, Brian, Cheyenne, Dennis, Emma, Harper, Henry, Holly, Jeff, Jessica, myself, Lucas, Marquis, Megan, Miranda, Morgan, Natalie, Torsten, and Ty. A team of 19 made from students, teachers, and a former editor of the environment for National Geographic explored the McKenzie River. The story of snow begins up at Santiam Pass, then melts into Clear Lake, the head of the McKenzie which provides irrigation for farms at lower elevations.

With rising temperatures, the snow levels are decreasing leaving less water for lower lands. It’s not just the farms that are economically affected. From 1999-2010, the ski industry lost an estimated billion and suffered a 27,000 job loss. Of all the states, it hit Oregon the worst. This economic loss will continue as the environment changes with warmer winters.

Even with rising average temperatures, we were protecting ourselves from snow and rain under a cabin at Clear Lake. The trailhead for the McKenzie is a magnificent location in the Willamette Forest. Petrified trees line the bottom of the lake, visible on a clear day. Instead we could see raindrops covering the murky waters.

Rain falls at a snowy Clear Lake in April. Clear Lake is the beginning of the McKenzie River. The McKenzie River benefits farmers and other families along the McKenzie Valley as well as provides all drinking water for Eugene.

Shortly below Clear Lake along the McKenzie includes Sahalie and Koosah Falls, and Tamolitch Blue Pool, all popular tourist destinations. These stunning sights bring in people from all over Oregon and the world. Last summer, heavy fires around the blue pool closed off the forest oasis during prime tourist season.

Koosah Falls is a popular tourist destination due to its proximity to Hwy 126.

The McKenzie is much more than just a tourist destination. Farmers, like Jack Richardson of Redneck Farms, rely on the Mckenzie river for a livelihood. Jack has a close connection with the Mckenzie, and even drinks from the river on a summer day. Redneck farms wants to bring people closer to their food and farmers, but what happens when the McKenzie river can no longer provide to all the farmers?

  • Organic Redneck Farms is one many farms that utilizes the McKenzie River for crop irrigation. On a hot summer day, the greenhouse doors must be opened to prevent burnt crops.

  • Greenhouse gardens are typically built out of glass or plastic to allow sunlight inside. The warmer air inside heats up the plants.

Life depends on water and its sustainability. Changing ecosystems means we need to change how we interact from them. We need to return the favor and take care of our rivers, so they can continue to care for us.

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