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.