ethic and encourage volunteerism among the local youth. After several meetings and conference calls, the concept of an Environmental Club was created, and a proposal submitted to the Jubitz Foundation. A few months later, on November 30, we were informed that our proposal had been awarded a grant, and that we had secured additional funding for plants and supplies by the Willamette Habitat Restoration Fund. Since we were already in the midst of the school year, we ramped up the planning process and fleshed out a schedule and list of topics as quickly as we could. The club's first meeting was this past Tuesday, February 16, and will continue to meet every first and third Tuesday of the month until summer break. While there is some classroom time, the focus leans heavily toward hands-on learning about botany, restoration ecology and environmental stewardship. Having 14 students show up for the first meeting seemed to send a strong signal that this after-school club was filling a niche that many students were hungry for. Though most of the students were unfamiliar with terms like "watershed," "restoration," and "riparian zone," they quickly absorbed the concepts and related them to the things many of them did know about and ardently believed in - the need to take good care of our natural resources. After about 15 minutes of introductions and discussion, we headed off to do what the students had almost unanimously declared that they had joined to do--get outdoors.
trees and shrubs can be propagated by cuttings, but certain species do readily sprout roots from branches that are lopped off and immediately planted deep into the soil. The five species in the waiting buckets - red osier dogwood, willow, douglas spirea, snowberry and Pacific ninebark - were carefully selected not only because they are relatively easy to propagate this way, but because they provide a lot of benefits to the fish, birds and wildlife communities that rely on healthy streamside habitat for their survival. The students made sure to step gingerly around the young plants already in the ground, as they dug deep holes for each cutting and marked each site with a green flag. For about an hour, they worked hard, laughed a lot, asked many questions, made new discoveries, and ended up transplanting close to 60 cuttings!
This time of year, it is hard to know what to expect weather-wise when you venture outside. So, I came prepared for the Luckiamute State Natural Area (LSNA) Fall Tour last Sunday for all kinds of precipitation and temperature changes. Arriving at the North Tract entrance at 9:30am, I changed into my waterproof hiking boots, pulled on a fleece, a hooded jacket, and added a pair of gloves for good measure. I was ready for anything! The first tour participants arrived just before 10:00am, as did the LSNA Park Ranger, Steve DeGoey, and several more cars rolled up soon after. By then, it was pretty clear that we had picked a perfect day for a tour through what has come to be one of my most favorite nature walks in the area. It was an especially exciting day for me, as I got to unveil the three new interpretive panels that the Luckiamute Watershed Council (LWC) and Oregon Parks and Recreation Department (OPRD) have completed as an important outreach component of the LSNA Enhancement Project. Since 2012, the LWC and OPRD, with support from the Oregon Watershed Enhancement Board, Bonneville Power Administration and Meyer Memorial Trust, have been enhancing and restoring some of the unique landscapes found within LSNA.
What makes Luckiamute State Natural Area so special? Well for starters, it is the site where three spectacular rivers come together as one. Standing at the confluence -- where the Luckiamute and Santiam Rivers empty their waters into the Willamette -- is an experience that can only be described as magical. I had only learned the week before, from OPRD Archaeologist Nancy Nelson, that the Luckiamute Indians had used the confluence area as prime summer fishing grounds. Not surprising really when you consider that, next to the McKenzie River confluence about 70 miles or so upstream, this spot has the most diversity of fish species in the Willamette Valley.
Another unique spot at LSNA is the gallery forest. According to Ranger DeGoey, OPRD has ranked this stretch of riparian forest at LSNA at a Level 2, just a step below a Level 1 rating -- which is reserved for those landscapes considered 'pristine' and without human alteration. What also makes this forest particularly special is that it is the largest intact gallery forest left standing in the entire Willamette Valley. All of our tour participants opted to add an extra hour to our stroll to deviate off the main loop trail and walk through the gallery forest down to the boater's campground at the confluence. By this time, I was shedding layers as the sun grew stronger and the morning mists cleared away. As we walked, we spoke of the beauty and serenity of the landscape -- most of the participants had never ventured inside the borders of the park, and some hadn't ever heard of this gem located practically in their backyard.
Rounding the final curve of the loop trail took us past a broad swath of floodplain habitat, which is inundated every year during the heavier winter and spring rains. Previously covered by a monoculture of invasive reed canary grass, this area is now a vibrant and diverse landscape of red osier dogwood, wild rose and willow. Camas seed banks that had lain dormant beneath reed canary grass have since awakened and now bloom every spring, painting the wetlands with a haze of purple. For now, however, the colors are muted. The trees and shrubs are slipping into their annual dormancy as they prepare for the coming rains and dark, cold days of winter. As we hiked the final stretch of the trail back to the parking lot, nobody minded that the tour had taken three hours to complete instead of the two we had scheduled. In fact, everyone was talking about the next time they would visit LSNA to witness its continuing transformation. I encourage those of you that have not yet ventured into this precious little corner of our watershed to also take the time to stroll through the lanscapes of LSNA. I'll look forward to seeing you there!
Not all superheroes wear capes and masks and live in far-away fortresses. In Independence, the Luckiamute Watershed Council (LWC) discovered that heroes prefer comfortable clothes and can be found just minutes away. Demonstrating their commitment to community service, student volunteers from Central High School's Transitions program provided invaluable help in clearing a mound of trash that had piled up through the years behind Talmadge Middle School. This garbage heap was located right beside Ash Creek, and had been invisible for so long because it had been covered by dirt and colonized by an enormous and impenetrable thicket of blackberry canes.
Last fall and winter, the LWC started clearing non-native vegetation along Ash Creek as part of the Ash Creek Restoration Project, which aims to restore the ecological health of this waterway. Armed with chainsaws and backpack sprayers, our invasive species removal crew battled the blackberry canes and stands of teasel that dominated much of the riverbanks along the creek. Behind Talmadge Middle School, the the School District maintenance team tore through the 8-foot-tall blackberry thicket that had grown atop the 'mystery mound' of debris. Once uncovered, it was clear that much of this mound was composed of landscaping debris and garbage. With spring just around the corner, the LWC was already preparing to start planting native trees and shrubs along this stretch of Ash Creek. The trash needed to be removed as soon as possible.
Enter our heroes. A call to the principal of Central High School immediately led to a conversation with Erika Gardner, director of the Transitions program, who jumped at the chance to get her students involved in this project. Transitions is a program that prepares youth with disabilities for employment or career-related post-secondary education or training. Through real work experience, community service and a multitude of other hands-on learning opportunities, Transitions gives these students the life skills they need to gain independence and forge their own career paths. On January 30, on a gorgeously sunny day, Erika and five Transitions students walked over to the clean-up site, carrying plastic bags, gloves and a positive attitude. An hour's worth of trash picking turned up six large trash bags full of plastic, paper and other small pieces of garbage - as well as a 4 foot length of PVC pipe, concrete blocks, several tennis balls, a bag of old clothes and plenty of plastic tubing. The following week, these heroes returned to the scene and continued to pick up any trash that we had missed the first time. Thanks to the incredibly hard work of these students, this mountain of trash will not be washed into our creek, and the planting crew will be able to plant native trees and shrubs without any barriers.