Water returns to the millrace as Knight Campus work continues

Crews restored flows to the millrace last week, marking an important step in the revitalization of the waterway, a portion of which runs adjacent to the Phil and Penny Knight Campus for Accelerating Scientific Impact.

Eugene’s earliest European settlers built the canal in 1851 to turn the water wheels that powered the city’s early industry. In past decades, the millrace was home to boathouses renting skiffs and canoes.

Artist view of millrace More recently, however, blackberry bushes and other brush had overgrown its banks and garbage littered its waters.

Then the Knight Campus jump-started improvements, at least along the portion flowing along the north side of the construction site. As part of the project, crews last year reduced flows and diverted a section between Riverfront Parkway and Onyx Street to allow landscaping and reinforcement of the banks.

With the banks restored and landscaping in progress, work is underway on a 360-foot long concrete boardwalk for pedestrians and cyclists, along with a new pedestrian bridge and a replacement for another bridge.

The improvements along the Knight Campus portion create additional possibilities for restoration of the two-mile waterway, said Mike Harwood, UO associate vice president for campus planning and facilities management.

Although there are no firm plans for additional improvements at this time, Harwood’s vision includes restoring the full stretch of the millrace through UO property and eventually renovating Mill Pond, just west of Onyx Street, to welcome canoes, kayaks and stand-up paddle boards.

 “I’m optimistic that we might be able to divide restoration into discrete projects that make sense,” Harwood said. “Ultimately, it’s the right thing to do for the university and the community.”