Recreation Site Restoration at Marion Lake in the Mt. Jefferson Wilderness

In 2011, WRP, in partnership with the Detroit Ranger District of the Willamette National Forest, embarked upon a five-year restoration and monitoring project at Marion Lake in the Mt. Jefferson Wilderness. This year will mark the fourth year that WRP along with community and youth groups and students from participating schools will be planting and monitoring a 400×250 foot area on the northwest shore of Marion Lake, which became denuded of vegetation due to intense use. The project engages high school students and community members in plant propagation, restoration activities, and education, and thus aims to build local support and community capacity for land stewardship and benefit the lands, forests and waters of the Willamette National Forest for the long-term.


About Marion Lake

Marion Lake is a popular recreation destination for day hikers, backpackers, and fishers within the Mt. Jefferson Wilderness in the Willamette National Forest. The lake is located off of Highway 22 about 70 miles east of Salem, Oregon. It is an important recreation site for nearby rural communities, including Mill City, Stayton, and Detroit, and is one of the most popular sites within the 111,000-acre Mt. Jefferson Wilderness. A three-mile hike allows access to the mile-long lake. On busy summer weekends, as many as 10 groups camp in close proximity to the lake in a 400-by-250-foot area. The area is used so highly that a fire ban has been in place since 2005 within half a mile of the lake to reduce impacts from firewood collection. The area around the lake is a reservoir of plant and animal species diversity. A nesting pair of Bald Eagles lives nearby and Marion Falls cascades just below the lake.

Marion Lake is in a time of transition from a past of heavy use and impact, with as many as 8,000 visitors per year. The area was included in the Mt. Jefferson Wilderness in 1968 and since that time, the Forest Service has worked to manage the area as wilderness. In the past, cabins surrounded Marion Lake and a dock allowed boat access, and therefore some local residents do not treat it as wilderness. Currently, the area around Marion Lake fails to meet the Willamette National Forest Plan standards for wilderness management. Through this community-based restoration project, the Detroit Ranger District and project partners hope to restore species diversity and reduce soil compaction and erosion near Marion Lake, while at the same time ensuring recreation opportunities for visitors. Community members and students will lead this effort to restore Marion Lake and steward it into the future.


Plans for 2014

WRP is currently cold stratifying perennial herbaceous species to be sown into flats in early spring 2014. Plants propagated from these efforts will be installed into restored campsites adjacent to Marion Lake in early October 2014. Students and staff will monitor and water seedlings throughout the growing season.

Throughout the spring of 2014, WRP will actively recruit participants from local high schools and nature-focused community organizations. To conclude the 2013-2014 school year, WRP will conduct on-site monitoring to evaluate the effectiveness of previous plantings. Participants engaged in rehabilitation efforts conducted in the fall of 2013 will be included in follow-up monitoring efforts.

In the 2014 growing season, WRP will conduct field trips to collect seeds and vegetative cuttings of native species intended for restoration purposes. Native vegetative cuttings will be put into moist mediums for rooting and planting in 2014. Collected perennial seeds will be put into cold-stratification and then later placed into flats for grow-out, while seeds from annual populations will be broadcast into sites targeted for rehabilitation in October 2014. To conclude the 2014-2015 school year, WRP will invite October 2014 participants to help conduct monitoring to determine the effectiveness of the fourth year of restoration efforts.

In October 2014, high school and community participants will engage in soil de-compaction efforts.  Following soil de-compaction, participants will install propagated native plants. Seedlings will be micro-sited and mulched to increase survival.

Project Implementation April 2014-April 2015

April-June 2014

  • Recruit participants from schools and community groups
  • Conduct monitoring of the site adjacent to Marion Lake

June-September 2014

  • Collect native seeds and cuttings adjacent to Marion Lake for propagation
  • Water and maintain seedlings

October-November 2014

  • Expand restoration area by de-compacting soil, planting native flora and roping off restored area from foot traffic
  • WRP will conduct on-site lessons pertaining to site restoration and monitoring, lentic ecosystems, Leave-No-Trace ethics, soil compaction, community stewardship, native flora identification and ethno-botany

December 2014-March 2015

  • Place seeds into cold stratification
  • Plant cold stratified seed into flats in a greenhouse for germination

March-June 2015

  • Continue recruitment of project participants
  • Conduct restoration site monitoring at Marion Lake
  • Invite the Detroit Ranger District to provide feedback on project effectiveness

Restoration Activity 2011-2013

WRP began restoration efforts in October 2010, when it led the Youth Enviro Squad, a group of middle and high school students representing eight schools in and around Salem, to Marion Lake to collect seeds and vegetative cuttings. Under an early fall rain, students learned about the history, ecology, and plant communities of Marion Lake and collected cuttings from Oregon grape (Berberis nervosa) and pipsissewa (Chimaphila umbellata). In late September 2011, WRP returned with students from Eugene’s Network Charter School to de-compact soils and install appropriate native flora into impacted areas. During this time, restored areas were also roped off from recreational foot traffic, and the Detroit Ranger District placed signs atound the site to inform visitors about rehabilitation efforts.









The 2012 growing season was the first of many restoration monitoring efforts at Marion Lake. At the onset of the growing season, things were looking great. Survival estimates were over seventy-five percent from the plantings in autumn 2011. However, summer took its toll on this figure with end-of-season survival rates dropping below forty percent. Periodic watering through the 2013 growing season helped increase survival rates for 2012 plantings.

In September of 2012, WRP led the urban ecology class from the Network Charter School on a backpacking trip to continue project implementation. The Youth Enviro-Squad from Salem also joined WRP crews in October to further expand the project area. Participants assisted with soil de-compaction, the planting of appropriate native flora, and a heavy watering of summer-parched soils. In 2013, the area reclaimed through soil de-compaction and native planting tripled in size from 2012 restoration efforts and is on schedule for the five-year estimate for project completion.









Site-based and general wilderness education has become a major component of the project at Marion Lake. Topics covered and discussed among participants include Leave No Trace ethics, lake ecology, soil compaction, on-site native flora, and ethno-botanical uses for various forest understory species in Oregon. For many participants this becomes their introduction to backpacking. WRP’s goals for the site thus extend well beyond the project’s time frame and physical boundaries.

WRP is grateful for continuous support of this project by the National Forest Foundation’s Matching Awards Program and by the Willamette National Forest’s Detroit Ranger District.


Project Goals:

Short-term project goals include:

  • Expand participation from high school and community members
  • Evaluate the effectiveness of restoration efforts already performed
  • Continue to implement the 5-year restoration plan developed for impacted areas adjacent to Marion Lake

Long-term project goals include:

  • Teach youth and community members backcountry etiquette (Leave No Trace) through the Respect the River program and balance the pressures of overuse through citizen participation in Marion Lake stewardship
  • Restore the integrity of the recreation site at Marion Lake for ecosystem health and exceptional wilderness camping and picnicking experiences within five years