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Group of six volunteers help maintain and promote teh city of Prineville's wetland

JASON CHANEY/CENTRAL OREGONIAN - Chuck Gates will take people on tours of the Crooked River Wetland Complex about twice a week. The tours are made possible by the city purchase of a golf cart for the volunteer group to use for the tours and wetland maintenance.Chuck Gates is well versed in how the Crooked River Wetland Complex works.

Join him for a tour of the facility and he will give a rundown of how wastewater is treated at a facility about a mile down O'Neil Highway toward town, and how the treated water is then piped to either the Meadow Lakes Golf Course, the local data centers up the hill or the wetland.

"It comes into this big kidney pond," Gates says, gesturing to an elevated water source just east of the wetland, "then it goes through a series of ponds. Essentially, they are all numbered (1-15) in the order of where the water goes."

He goes on to say that as the tour makes its way to pond number 15 at the far west end of the complex, people should notice the water getting more and more shallow, "until about half the year, number 15 doesn't have any water in it at all." Gates is one of six volunteers who currently help the City of Prineville maintain and promote its state and national award-winning wetland. Completed and opened to the public in April 2017, the wetland treats local wastewater for millions of dollars less than a mechanical treatment plant while providing a new recreational area and wildlife habitat.

Shortly after it opened, a group of volunteers approached city officials with plans to help keep the wetland in good repair and clean.

"When they built this facility, they didn't really have anybody to run it," Gates said, noting that the city didn't have staff to maintain the paved and gravel paths and clean the informational kiosks and other portions of the wetland.

"A couple of people started volunteering and coming with the idea to get a group of volunteers to come out and do some of the stuff that the city doesn't have time to do," he said. "Once we did that, then we told the city that if we are going to be out here, we need a little bit of transportation. So they bought a golf cart for us."

The golf cart is a four-seater, painted dark green with a Crooked River Wetland Complex logo affixed to its side. To keep it protected from the elements or other damage, the volunteer group built a storage shed next to the restroom. The shed also maintenance tools.

The volunteers use the golf cart to reach maintenance destinations on the nearly 5.5 miles of trails at the facility and have turned the vehicle into a touring rig. Gates said that each volunteer has a certain specialty as it relates to the wetland and depending on what tour-seekers are interested in seeing, they will try to hook them up with the best volunteer tour guide.

Gates' specialty is birds, which he has been studying for around 30 years.

"Many people who come from out of the area to visit are coming for the birds," he notes, adding that he provides around two tours per week.

His tours certainly center on birds as he is quick to point out the different species – rare and common alike – and photographs them for a growing log of which birds have been spotted at the wetland. But that is not all that he covers. Gates explains the wastewater treatment side of the wetland, and notes the number of miles of trails available to people walking the trails. He notes that not many cyclists take advantage of the wetland trails.

In addition, Gates and other volunteers try to give visitors a tour of the entire wetland including the double-digit-numbered ponds that are far enough away to discourage a visit on foot.

"We want to promote people coming out here and provide opportunities for people with limited mobility," he said.

Two years in, the volunteer group has no official title – Gates simply refers to the group as the Crooked River Wetland Complex volunteers – and with the exception of some mostly fruitless advertising in a Bend-based print publication, have relied on word-of-mouth to spread the message that they are available for tours and to maintain the wetland.

While that is the case, they hope for more visitors in the months and years ahead and would love to see more people join their little group.

"We sure could use more volunteers," Gates concluded.


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