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Willow Creek Preserve Loop Hike

From Oregon Hikers Field Guide

Great camas (Camassia leichtlinii), Willow Creek Preserve (bobcat)
Nature Conservancy signage, Willow Creek Preserve (bobcat)
Bradshaw's desert parsley (Lomatium bradshawii), Willow Creek Preserve (bobcat)
Wild Iris Ridge from Willow Creek Preserve (bobcat)
The loop around the Nature Conservancy's Willow Creek Preserve (bobcat) Courtesy: Google Maps
  • Start point: Willow Creek 18th Avenue TrailheadRoad.JPG
  • End Point: East Fork Willow Creek Crossing
  • Hike Type: Loop
  • Distance: 2.7 miles
  • Elevation gain: 55 feet
  • High Point: 450 feet
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Seasons: Late spring into fall
  • Family Friendly: Yes
  • Backpackable: No
  • Crowded: No
Poison-Oak

Contents

Description

The Nature Conservancy has been working to protect the fields and wetlands around West Eugene’s Willow Creek since 1981. There are currently 405 acres under Conservancy management here, a significant swathe of the ‘wet prairie’ ecosystem, more technically known as the tufted hair-grass (Deschampsia cespitosa) prairie, supposedly one of the rarest habitats in North America. This type of meadow is a squishy bog in winter and spring, drying to hard as rock in summer and fall. Regular prescribed burns help to facilitate plant growth. There are some rare plant species that thrive only in this regime, including Kincaid’s lupine (host to the endangered Fender’s blue butterfly), Bradshaw’s desert parsley, white-topped aster, and Willamette Valley daisy. This biome once occupied much of the Willamette Valley, but the arrival of Euro-American farming practices reduced it to only a few remnant patches. Trails are faint to non-existent here. Keep to the edges of fields, and your best experience will be to visit from about mid-spring into early fall, when the prairies are less boggy.

From the parking pullout, walk east a few yards to where you see Willow Creek (thicketed, appropriately, with willows) pass under 18th Avenue. On the east side of Willow Creek, you can take up a mowed track that heads south near the creek. The path itself is dense with purple camas plants, as well as yellow buttercup and white Willamette Valley bitter cress, a pretty sight when all are blooming at the end of April. Bradshaw’s desert parsley (Lomatium bradshawii) also blooms among the camas in mid-spring. This lomatium was considered extinct until 1979, when it was rediscovered by a University of Oregon student. Reseeding programs have been so successful that it was taken off the endangered species list in March 2021!

The track can be boggy if it’s a wet spring. You’ll pass through some ash trees and enter a meadow where the main track veers right. You can keep straight along the edge of a Douglas-fir copse, and then turn right to pass along the edge of the conifer wood. You’ll turn south again to get views of farmhouses and forested Murray Hill to the southwest, with Wild Iris Ridge to the east. In the field itself, you can see how the blackberry that once invaded this space is attempting a return. Pass a willow thicket to reach a fence line, where you should bear left up a shallow slope. To the northeast, Tom Mountain, Buck Mountain, and Mount Nebo in the Coburg Hills are visible.

At a fence corner, keep straight to cross the big field, which blooms thick with slender cinquefoil in summer, heading towards the ash woodland on the East Fork of Willow Creek. when you reach the wood, bear left and then turn right to pass through a rather obvious gap in the trees. A few branches are placed across the little creek, and you’ll come to a prairie dotted with ash trees. Efforts are being made to restrict the expansion of the ash into the lush prairie. You may hear the melodious tinkle of a western meadowlark, Oregon’s state bird, or watch a red-tailed hawk flap off. Turkeys also frequent the meadow.

Turn north to follow a track that enters an ash grove and then bears right after a few yards. At a gap in the vegetation, with a Douglas-fir wood on private property straight ahead, cross a ditch, and turn left. A mowed track, carpeted with camas, then turns north to follow Willow Creek’s east tributary. The track bears right at a thicket. Ignore a little loop diversion to the left, and turn north again to make for a couple of ponderosa pines near 18th Avenue. When you reach the street, cross it to take the sidewalk back to your car.


Fees, Regulations, etc.

  • No dogs
  • Preserve open daylight hours only
  • Do not move or disturb flags

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Guidebooks that cover this hike

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Page Contributors

Oregon Hikers Field Guide is built as a collaborative effort by its user community. While we make every effort to fact-check, information found here should be considered anecdotal. You should cross-check against other references before planning a hike. Trail routing and conditions are subject to change. Please contact us if you notice errors on this page.

Hiking is a potentially risky activity, and the entire risk for users of this field guide is assumed by the user, and in no event shall Trailkeepers of Oregon be liable for any injury or damages suffered as a result of relying on content in this field guide. All content posted on the field guide becomes the property of Trailkeepers of Oregon, and may not be used without permission.