Riparian areas contain elements of water and land ecosystems. The interaction between the two systems creates a healthy environment that is critical for the survival and existence of living things, both plant and animal, that depend upon it. Riparian areas in Washington state include several in the Methow Valley.
Mazama residents Lincoln and Janet Loehr view a robust riparian area from their expansive windows. Remember when we used to call a big window a “picture window?” They indeed have a picture window with a bird’s-eye view of the many varieties of wildlife that meander through the grasses, brush, and trees that surround six beaver ponds, making their way to the Methow River.
Lincoln, an accomplished photographer, has captured the wildlife in pictures that line one wall of their house. He has a wealth of knowledge –—Loehr lore — about the critters and how he captured the photos.
One such story was about a merganser that he had been watching with her ducklings — six trailing behind her on the pond and one on her back. One day he saw her sans ducklings and acting very agitated. A closer look revealed a bald eagle flying aggressively over her. She flapped and circled until Lincoln shooed the eagle away. She flew low to the protected place where she had hidden her family. At that moment, Lincoln captured her in flight.
Other wildlife that he has captured in photo include mama bear with cubs, bobcat, moose, deer with fawn, coyote and otter. Bird varieties include barn owl, pileated woodpecker, hawk and eagle.
A walk down Loehrs’ Dirt Road Trail to Methow Community Trail gives an up-close and personal sense of the value of the riparian area just as it is coming to life. Pussy willows sporting their soft, silky catkins are prolific in the moist soil surrounding the ponds. Soon the grasses will green, and the critters will return after the long winter.
Loehrs’ trail meets the Methow Community Trail a short distance from the Tawlks-Foster Suspension Bridge. Lincoln explains that his wife Janet’s parents were the “Tawlks” in the name of the bridge since access to the bridge on the south side was on their property.
Lincoln told how the original aging wooden towers of the bridge built in 1995 threatened closure of the bridge. In 2013, through an incredible effort by locals, from engineering, inspections, to removal and replacement of the legs, the towers were replaced with high-grade, long-lasting steel. Work took about a month and the bridge was given new life to service the thousands of users from skiers, hikers, horseback riders and bicyclists all year long.
The underground stream that flows into the river just west of the bridge was named Suspension Creek after the bridge. Several log structures were created in the river last year by the Yakama Nation Fisheries to improve salmon and steelhead habitat as well as help protect the suspension bridge pillars from riverbank erosion.
It is no mystery why a walk, bike or ride to the suspension bridge is recommended on multiple travel sites as a “must do.” Next time you make the trek, remember all the teaming wildlife and plant life that depend upon this precious riparian area.