Dixon Creek is named after William Fooks Dixon who owned the northern half of Corvallis, then named Marysville.
In the Kalapuyan era (pre-1850), Dixon Creek was comprised of many headwater streams rushing down the low lying hills to the north. Kalapuyans had a seasonal camp in the lower Timberhill area that is now residential housing. The beaver-inhabited creek below that settlement was almost entirely wetland, with no discernible channel. The plentiful beaver dams kept the waterway full even during severe droughts.
With the settlement of pioneers, such as William Dixon, the beavers were trapped to extinction and the wetland-creating dams were destroyed. The creek beds were down-cut by the faster flowing creek water. As the creek beds were scoured below the ground level, the water table dropped with it, further drying out the wetlands. The new farmers installed agricultural tiles in their farmland to further dry out the land.
In the late 19th century, development in lower Dixon Creek transformed farmland into residential property. The middle and upper reaches of the watershed did not get developed into residential property until the mid and late 20th century. All that remains to be developed in the watershed are the very upper reaches. Developers are working hard to develop those areas. Only the very top of Dimple Hill and the ridgeline toward Chip Ross Park are currently protected from development.
Dixon Creek Statistics
- 2,712 acres – Dixon Creek is one of the largest creek watersheds within the City of Corvallis.
- 6 miles long – Measured from its highest and furthest perennial flow reaches, down to its outfall into the Willamette River.
- Highest point – 1,480 ft at Dimple Hill.
- Lowest point – 200 ft at its confluence with the Willamette River by the wastewater treatment plant.
- Main tributaries – East, Middle and West Forks in the foothills from Dimple Hill to Chip Ross Park (all remaining tributaries have been covered or piped).
- Flow rate – Springtime non-rain event flow rates range from 2.2–3.0 cubic feet per second.
- Ownership – 15% OSU McDonald Forest, 15% open space, 30% low density residential, 15% medium density residential.
- Paved or built impervious surfaces – Over 35% of the entire Dixon Creek watershed or over 950 acres are covered with pavement or buildings.
- Over 33 creek bridges – Dixon Creek is crossed by a road or pedestrian bridge about every one-tenth of a mile making it one of the most engineered creeks in Corvallis.
- Redirected, channelized, deeply incised – Dixon Creek has been moved from its original creek course multiple times. The channel has been deepened by construction equipment and has been further deeply incised downward from excessive, high-velocity and high-volume stormwater drainage from the City’s municipal stormwater piping system that drains unchecked into Dixon Creek.
- Pollution status – A 2003 study by the Conservation Biology Institute found high levels of nine pesticides that are harmful to fish. These pesticides generally enter the stream in stormwater runoff from neighboring homes, businesses and institutions.
- Fish barriers – The most significant fish barrier is at the confluence of the creek with the Willamette River. The steep stone embankment accompanied by a relatively low outlet flow rate only allows fish passage during high flow rates during storms. The double box culverts under 27th St and 29th St also display high blockage levels during non-rain event days.
- Wetland loss – The lowlands of Dixon Creek served a continuous thread of wide productive wetlands, filled with fish and a broad diversity of native aquatic and terrestrial animals and plants. The human-made channelization of the creek drained and destroyed most of the wetlands, leaving a dearth of original aquatic species. There are a few small wetlands remaining in the lower headwaters areas and in the Willamette River floodplain area.
- Fish in Dixon Creek – Cutthroat Trout, Pacific Lamprey and Long-nosed Dace. During Willamette River flooding, Chinook Salmon find refuge in the lower Dixon Creek floodplain, including Washington Park. See adjoining floodplain map where the salmon can find refuge (purple areas).
Western boundary – The western watershed boundary is the eastern slope of Witham Hill. Water drains quickly down paved roads into the lowlands.
Southern boundary – Is essentially flatlands. Former streams and wetlands that drained into Dixon Creek were filled in to accommodate housing and business development. Storm drains have now replaced those tributaries. The southern boundary is mostly Grant Ave west of Kings Blvd, Taylor Ave between Kings Blvd and 9th St, and Harrison Blvd between 9th and 4th St.
Eastern boundary – Dixon Creek drains into the Willamette River adjacent to the City’s wastewater treatment plant. The Willamette River is the eastern boundary.
Lost Channels and Tributaries
The illustrated map to the right shows the current Dixon Creek channel in blue. The pink line shows Dixon Creek and its tributaries in 1921. The yellow shows the channels in 1940. Where the stream is alternating blue and yellow indicates the channels that were the same in 1940 as they are currently. Those original channels were filled in for agricultural, residential and commercial development.
Creek flow never goes away when the channels are buried, piped underground or moved. The wet soils underground continue to hold and transport water even when a city grows over it. These lost creeks can impact the lives of those who live near them. And, they also contain life that is connected to our aquatic world. The Water Action Team has been working with the City, County, Alsea Geospatial, Benton County Historical Museum, OSU Archives and others to research old maps and documents to find evidence of creeks that flowed in Corvallis prior to development but have since been piped underground, buried with fill material and paved over, or tilled and drained with agricultural tiles.
The Lost Tributaries of Dixon Creek
Cloverland Park Creek – Headwaters on the NE corner of Witham Hill near Gumwood Dr and Robin Hood St, traversed southeast across 29th St through Cloverland Park, crossed Grant Ave at 25th St, crossed Kings Blvd by the National Guard Armory and drained into Dixon Creek where it crosses under Buchanan Ave in front of the Corvallis High School.
Chintimini Park Creek – Headwaters in College Hill crossed Harrison Ave near 33rd St and flowed through what is now Harding School (College Hill Alternative School), crossed 29th St near Polk Ave and flowed through Chintimini Park and the NW corner of the Fred Myer parking lot before it met with Cloverland Park Creek, near 18th St just north of Buchanan Ave.
Washington Park Creek – This short creek started near the corner of 11th St & Tyler Ave in what was an oddly undeveloped block in 1921 (between 9th St & 11th St and Polk Ave & Harrison Ave) surrounded by residential development. It crossed 9th St between Polk and Taylor and then flowed to the north below the high ground where Washington School (now Benton Center) was built. From there, it originally entered the main channel of Dixon Creek where 5th St crosses over Dixon Creek. When the north/south Southern Pacific Railroad was built adjacent to 6th St, Washington Park Creek was channelized to the north along the west railroad bed and it drained into Dixon Creek, by the current Community Outreach facility at the east end of Reiman Ave.
Water Action Team Activities in Dixon Creek
- Partnered with the City to work with property owners adjacent to Dixon Creek, to remove invasive weeds and plant native species.
- Partnered with the City to expand the vegetative buffer along Dixon Creek at Porter Park.
- Partnered with the Marys Peak Group of the Sierra Club, Corvallis Odd Fellows Lodge and Jefferson Elementary School to plant native trees on school property adjacent to the creek.
- Led two bike tours of Dixon Creek.
- Served as a resource on creek history and statistics for a published article about Dixon Creek, to a citizen’s group attempting to save a Dixon Creek wetland in the lower floodplain area, and to a neighborhood association trying to preserve a Dixon Creek wetland in the headwaters area
- Discovered and researched the lost creeks of Dixon Creek.
- Provided consultation to residents to collect rainwater in cisterns, to prevent the unnatural rapid runoff surges into storm drains and creeks during heavy rains.