Walking through downtown, it’s easy to miss Eugene’s wayward waterway, hidden in culverts and secreted away behind swathes of pavement and sidewalk. Though Amazon Creek shares its name with a mighty South American river, the comparisons stop there. It once provided a connective pathway for fish and other wildlife traveling from its headwaters near Spencer Butte to the Long Tom River, which further connects to the Willamette River and drains all the way to the Pacific Ocean. But after heavy restructuring in the 1940s and ’50s to mitigate stormwater flooding, Amazon Creek took on an entirely different persona.
Over the decades, the creek has succumbed to the pressures of its urban lifestyle. Stormwater drains directly into this tributary of the Willamette, carrying with it pesticides, heavy metals from parking lots and motor oil from leaky cars. Algae grows in the stagnant waters near South Eugene High School, forming a thick layer of slime during the summer, and the canals that redirect Amazon Creek’s flow seem more like stagnant moats than a corridor in a healthy ecosystem.