Elkhorn Creek Wild and Scenic River
On November 12, 1996, President Clinton signed into law the Omnibus Parks and Public Lands Management Act of 1996. With it, two segments of Elkhorn Creek, totaling 6.4 miles, became part of the National Wild and Scenic Rivers System.
East of Salem, Oregon, on the west side of the Cascade Mountains, Elkhorn Creek is a subwatershed to the North Fork Santiam River and flows into the Little North Santiam River just below Elkhorn Woods Park. If you’ve ever hiked from the popular Opal Creek trailhead, you’ve driven very close to it!
The BLM manages Elkhorn Creek from the Willamette National Forest boundary downstream, until it enters private property about a quarter mile from its confluence with the Little North Santiam River.
Why is Elkhorn Creek so special? Every wild and scenic river must possess what are called Outstandingly Remarkable Values, and Elkhorn Creek’s include its fantastic scenery and wildlife.
Scenic qualities of the creek’s meandering corridor include a range of features from vertical rock outcrops to dense, relatively undisturbed and mature forest.
Along the creekside habitat, visitors to the Elkhorn Creek area will find big-leaf maple, red alder, Douglas-fir, Western hemlock, and Western redcedar trees, with understory shrub layers of vine maple, huckleberries, salal, Oregon grape, and sword ferns.
Upper Willamette River winter-run steelhead trout (Oncorhynchus mykiss) and spring Upper Willamette River chinook salmon (O. tshawytscha) - both listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act - inhabit lower Elkhorn Creek, as do coastal cutthroat trout (O. clarki clarki), and sculpins (Cottus spp.).
Oregon slender salamanders can be found in the adjacent Douglas-fir stands, as can number of bat species of concern associated with caves and mines, bridges, buildings, cliff habitat, or large snags with sloughing bark.
Throughout much of the Elkhorn’s route, little evidence of human intrusion into the creek’s corridor is present, and it is accessible by roads in only two places.
To learn more about Elkhorn Creek and other area resources, contact the BLM Northwest Oregon District Office at (503) 375-5646.
Photo by Greg Shine, BLM