Students in the Columbia River Youth Corps program are doing more than just studying native plant species — they're helping restore them through partnerships in the community.
Year-round students in the program combine learning in the classroom with outdoor projects that promote the removal of invasive plant species and the restoration of native plants to the Pacific Northwest.
The CRYC program is one of two alternative education programs in the St. Helens School District, but it is open to students throughout the county who would benefit from a program that incorporates classroom learning with project-based natural habitat restoration, tree planting and other outdoor cleanups.
The students also run a native plant nursery throughout the school year as one of their ongoing projects, and some of those plants are avalaible for home gardeners to purchase.
Kevin Staley, who works with CRYC, conducts native seed collections at the beginning of the school year. Then, as the school year goes on, the students propagate the seeds, pot them, and then take care of the plants. Eventually, the potted plants are transported to a designated site and used in conservation projects in riparian and wetland areas.
Go native with plants
When considering what vegetation to grow in your yard or garden this spring, consider picking plants that are native to the area.
Terri Lewis, an instructor at CRYC, said the school is primarily a conservation corps, not a nursery business, but the students are selling some potted mock orange bushes this year for $10 each.
The fragrant shrub, known by its scientific name as Philadelphus lewisii, is also called syringa, Indian Arrowwood. Its scent is similar to an orange blossom, which gives it its common name. Mock orange flowers tend to bloom in May and June with small white flowers and are
often drought-resistant and easy to care for, according to a Northwest native plant database.
Throughout the year, students work in the nursery for approximately 10 days in combination with work on other projects. They enjoy "being surrounded by the fruits of their labor," Lewis explained.
"[They like] being able to show their friends and family one of the things they do here," Lewis stated in an email to the Spotlight. "They also like the teamwork involved in nursery work."
This year, Lewis said she also put together a horticulture program that compliments the work students do in the school nursery. The students also took trips to see other nurseries and completed projects like attending master gardening courses offered by Oregon State University Extension Services and profiling well-known naturalists and horticulturalists.
When not at the school site, the students also work on conservation projects with groups like the Scappoose Bay Watershed Council, the Bureau of Land Management, the Northwest Oregon Restoration Partnership, the Columbia County Soil and Water Conservation District and others.