A significant chunk of funding to remove the Balm Grove Dam on Gales Creek was approved Tuesday after a vote of the Oregon Watershed Enhancement Board awarded a $270,000 grant for the project to the Tualatin River Watershed Council.
The watershed council had previously announced intentions to remove the dam this summer if funding was approved by OWEB.
Other portions of the estimated $750,000 project cost have been cobbled together from a number of government and nonprofit agencies, including a $100,000 grant from the Oregon Department of Fish & Wildlife, $70,000 from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, $100,000 from the Portland-area Metro government, and $50,000 from the Tualatin Soil and Water Conservation District, according to Clean Water Services spokesperson Julie Cortez.
“Removing this dam is going to open up miles and miles of historic habitat.”Scott McEwen, Executive Director for the Tualatin River Watershed Council
“Gales Creek hosts one of the Tualatin Valley’s most important areas for winter steelhead,” said Scott McEwen, executive director of the Tualatin River Watershed Council in a press release. “Removing this dam is going to open up miles and miles of historic habitat. This project has been a high priority for our watershed council for a very long time, and we’re grateful to have the support of OWEB and so many local partners.”
The dam at Balm Grove is a historic feature of the Balm Grove neighborhood of the Gales Creek area, and for somewhere in the vicinity of a century—a firm date of the dam’s construction remains elusive—it was part of a site that hosted a tavern, dance hall, and park known as Balm Grove.
Balm Grove was an immensely popular tourist site, drawing crowds into Gales Creek from local communities and farther away.
Advertisements in the Washington County News-Times boasted of dances and events, while stories in the same newspaper noted company picnics and events pulling in hundreds from as far away as Portland in the 1920s and beyond.
By the early part of the 21st century, Balm Grove, located in Gales Creek on Balm Grove Loop, was no longer a park, a victim of Gales Creek’s dwindling farm and timber-based economy, a difficult regulatory environment, and owners who opted to end the property’s rural commercial designation.
Balm Grove changed hands a few times before Clean Water Services purchased the 12-acre site in 2016 with the help of funds from the Portland Metro Regional Government and the Tualatin Soil and Water Conservation District. But those plans stalled in 2019 and again in 2021 when various funding schemes fell apart.
“When the property came on the market, the partners pooled their resources, purchased the land, and launched into community planning and outreach,” said Jill Erickson, stewardship manager for Clean Water Services. “Everything we do at Clean Water Services is about healthy rivers and healthy communities. We are honored to be helping get this project underway.”
Work to remove the dam is expected to be completed in 2023.
With the removal of the dam, the upstream portions of Gales Creek and numerous tributaries to the creek will be open to a number of fish species whose access has been hampered by the three foot concrete dam, including coastal cutthroat trout, winter steelhead—protected by the federal Endangered Species Act—coho salmon, Pacific lamprey, mountain whitefish, and mountain and largescale sucker fish, according to the Tualatin River Watershed Council.
Listed in the dam removal project through the Tree for All partnership are the Tualatin River Watershed Council, Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, Metro, Intertwine Alliance, Northwest Steelheaders, Trout Unlimited, Tualatin Riverkeepers and Tualatin Soil and Water Conservation District.
A community open house for the project will be held from 4 to 7 p.m. on Thursday, June 9, with more details of that open house expected closer to the event.