Two Rivers, Three Sisters
These days, positive news about the environment is hard to come by. Climate change, global warming, monster storms, pollution, habitat loss, and on and on—all reports seem so devastatingly hopeless.
And then along comes a story about the restoration of Whychus Creek in central Oregon, and a group of quilters who have done something remarkable to assist in educating the public about the importance of this waterway.
Whychus Creek runs through Sisters, Oregon en route to the Deschutes River. Half a century ago, the winding creek was straightened to assist with flood control, a well-intentioned but misguided effort that caused erosion problems and destroyed steelhead trout and salmon habitat, which in turn negatively affected the region’s Native Americans who depended on these fish for food.
Agricultural interests upstream were allowed to draw water from the Whychus for irrigation, a practice that often caused the creek to run dry in spots during certain seasons. It became a diminished, polluted remnant, bearing little resemblance to the natural, wild river it once was.
Over a decade ago, a group of concerned citizens, non-profits, private companies, and government agencies banded together to literally and figuratively change the course of the Whychus and bring it back to its former status as an integral part of the area ecosystem.
The Deschutes Land Trust bought property adjoining the creek, and working with the Upper Deschutes Watershed Council, the National Forest Foundation, the U.S. Forest Service, and the Deschutes River Conservancy, the restoration of Whychus Creek began.
In 2009 crews began to dig nearly two miles of new channel and planted it with 200,000 native plants. Hundreds of volunteers and donors participated in the effort. Completed in 2012, the new channel restored spawning and rearing habitat for native fish.
Sisters, Oregon is not just known for Whychus Creek—it is also renowned for the Sisters Outdoor Quilt Show, the largest outdoor quilt show in the world. Held annually on the second Saturday of July since 1975, the show is a non-profit organization whose mission is to educate and inspire the public about the art of quilting and to benefit area school and community groups.
The Whychus Creek restoration project captured the interest of the Sisters Outdoor Quilt Show organizers, and they took it upon themselves to support the effort and get involved in a way that only quilters can: they decided to make a quilt.
The result is Two Rivers Three Sisters, a 40-foot long quilt installation, made up of 17 quilt panels created by 20 selected quilters with Whychus Creek as the connecting element. The name of the installation refers to the Whychus and Metolius waterways and the Three Sisters Mountains, all of which are part of the landscape around Sisters, Oregon. Here is how the group describes the quilt:
“Two Rivers, Three Sisters is a ground-breaking collaboration between the Sisters Outdoor Quilt Show, National Forest Foundation and U.S. Forest Service to find a new way to connect people to the wild rivers that frame Sisters—the Metolius River and Whychus Creek. Through the lens of fiber art, the project goal is to inspire and educate people about the need to care for the lost river Whychus, a gem that has been forgotten for a century and is only now being rediscovered as its historic name, water flows, and fish return.
Twenty Central Oregon quilters were invited to participate. Each quilter was selected because of their unique style. The installation will unite this variety of styles from abstract interpretations to more realistic depictions. Each unique quilt piece will speak to the quilter’s inspiration while the common thread of the river unites the work into a whole. Check out our Facebook page, our Blog, Video and Press Release for the project!”
The quilt took seven months to complete, and spent a year touring various places in the Pacific Northwest to publicize the Whychus Creek Restoration Project. It was recently featured at the Yokohama Quilt Show in Japan, and now resides permanently in the City Council Chambers of Sisters City Hall. It has garnered praise wherever it has been shown and has provided a unique way to spotlight the importance of preserving wild places in a world where such treasures are rapidly being lost.
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Column 46: A Different Way of Seeing
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