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Cavender Wetland Enhancement

From man-made mud hole to desert oasis


  • Location: Grant County

Is ninety too old to dream?

Not if you’re Jack Cavender. Of course, Jack had been dreaming for a long time before he turned ninety. Ever since he and his wife bought a ranch just outside of Monument, Oregon, in the 1950’s, Jack had been dreaming about what he could do with the property. Located on the banks of the North Fork John Day River, the ranch gave the Cavenders unique access to the river itself. In 1992, recognizing the lack of nearby public access to the river, the Cavenders donated a portion of their land for public use, acreage which has since been developed into the Monument River Park. Today it provides ready river access to the entire community.

But that generous donation wasn’t the only legacy Jack dreamed of leaving. He’d also turned his attention to an abandoned sawmill pond on another portion of his property. When he’d first acquired the ranch, he had intended to stock the pond with game fish, turning it into a personal fishing hole. However, before he had a chance to act on this plan, nature stepped in with different ideas. In the winter of 1964-1965, record flooding occurred on the North Fork John Day River, depositing more than six feet of silt and debris into Jack’s would-be fishing hole.

Rather than being frustrated by this turn of events, Jack recognized new potential for the old mill pond. He set aside the area and allowed it to transition into an emergent wetland—a unique environment in the high desert climate of the area. Over the years, the ten-acre wetland evolved into a rare and welcome habitat for scores of bird and reptile species, as well as river otter, marmot, beaver, mule deer, bats, and many other animals.

The establishment of this Eden could have been the end of the story. But by 2010 (when Jack was ninety), changes in river flows caused gradual eroding of the levee that protected the Cavender wetland. Jack approached the local soil & water conservation district, eager—even at that age—to start a new project; in this case to protect the unique wetland he’d established adjacent to the river.

The local conservation district, in cooperation with several partner agencies led by the Oregon Watershed Enhancement Board, undertook the project to correct the erosion where it threatened the wetland. Supported in part by Oregon Lottery dollars, this project required two years of planning before ground was broken. Once the plan was enacted, it included new features to alleviate flooding, enhance habitat, and reestablish native plant species.

Jack Cavender passed away in early 2017, but not before seeing this final dream come true. His visions will endure into the future for the benefit of his community, the local wetland species, and the environment itself. All while proving you’re never too old to dream.