Kate Ramsayer / The Bulletin

CAMP SHERMAN - For seven decades, there has been a pond at Lake Creek Lodge. In earlier years, kids swam and jumped off a diving board and anglers tried their hand at catching stocked fish. In recent years, sediments built up in the lake until only about a foot and half of water remained in parts.

But this week, thanks to more than 100 dump truckloads of gravel and rocks, the pond in Camp Sherman will disappear completely.

In its place will be a more natural bend for Lake Creek, which the Upper Deschutes Watershed Council and lodge owners hope will provide habitat for trout as well as the sockeye and chinook salmon expected to return after an absence of about 40 years.

Before, the creek flowed through the pond, and now it will meander through a channel being built where the pond once was.

”It's essentially trying to recover the native system from what it's been the last 70 years,” said Ryan Houston, executive director of the Upper Deschutes Watershed Council, which designed, permitted and funded the project.

The watershed council is focusing its habitat restoration efforts on areas like Lake Creek and Whychus Creek that are expected to see the return of salmon once they are reintroduced in a few years, as part of the Pelton-Round Butte Dam relicensing conditions. The dams have blocked salmon from swimming upstream since 1968, but the fish will soon be transported around the obstacles and be able to continue on into waterways, including Lake Creek.

”We have a lot of potential fish activity up here,” Houston said.

The watershed council is one of a number of groups that are working on different aspects of the fish return, he said. The Deschutes River Conservancy, for example, is working to increase the stream flow in rivers, while the Deschutes Basin Land Trust is protecting land and the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife and the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs are working on fish passage and genetics issues.

At Lake Creek Lodge, the pond poses a problem for salmon, Houston said. Fish need cooler water, and although Lake Creek in general is a little too warm, the shallow pond is even warmer.

Salmon also prefer places with overhanging vegetation that provides shade and hiding places - something that is hard to come by in a concrete-lined pond.

For the project's planners, the question becomes: ”How do you take a big old pond and turn it into a natural stream channel?” Houston said.

After asking fish biologists what the salmon and trout need in a stream, studying 40 different features of natural stretches of Lake Creek and consulting with the lodge owners, workers began construction on the project on Monday.

They blocked the pond off from the main creek channel, removed the 100 or so fish that were in there, pumped out water and removed 11 truckloads full of concrete that had lined the pond.

On Thursday, a dump truck drove back and forth from a rock pit, delivering some of the 1,100 cubic yards of gravel, pebbles and rocks that will fill the pond.

An excavator piled the material in the former pond, as people took measurements and decided how to sculpt a channel out of rocks and some the 40 ponderosa pines that will provide a framework.

The $175,000 construction project should be done by the end of next week, Houston said. The next step will be to plant native vegetation, including 600 trees and shrubs and 4,000 sedge plants, which look like long grass, along the new bend in the creek.

The watershed council wanted to work with the lodge to ensure that the plants would provide fish habitat and protect against erosion but still work for the lodge and its guests, he said.

”That's one of the really fun parts,” Houston said. ”How can we make the needs of the creek balance with the needs of the lodge?”

Gordon Jones, who owns Lake Creek Lodge with his brother Jeff Jones, said their goal when they bought it in 2003 was to be environmentally sensitive and do what would help the fisheries.

Although some guests have been a little concerned about the loss of the pond, most have been understanding and enthusiastic about a more natural creek running through the property.

And Jones himself is looking forward to the salmon's return.

”I just want to see the fish,” he said. ”To be able to stand on one of those bridges and watch salmon come up the creek would be a fantastic sight.”