Next month Oregon City elementary students will be put to work in a service-learning and habitat-enhancement program in the Newell Creek natural area.
City and regional government officials recently granted $15,220 to the program run by Ecology in Classrooms and Outdoors (ECO). Oregon City/Metro's Enhancement Grant Program is funded through a $1-per-ton fee for dumping garbage. Such grants are designed to offset the burden to the city in hosting Metro's southern waste-transfer facility.
During the past school year, approximately 300 students from Gardiner Middle School participated in the Newell Creek project located on the Mountain View Cemetery land operated by Oregon City, near property owned by Metro.
ECO Interim Executive Director Sarah Woods said project goals include reducing invasive plant species below 20%, planting a density of 1,600 natives per acre, improving students' understanding of watershed health and conducting vegetation monitoring protocol.
"The site has been impacted primarily by logging and by development of the cemetery, along the southwest edge," Woods said. "With the loss of mature native conifer trees, erosion has occurred along much of the sloping 3 acres, despite the remaining large bigleaf maple trees and few conifers. Excessive sediment washing into the mainstem of Newell Creek can negatively affect trout, coho salmon, steelhead trout and Pacific lamprey found in Newell Creek."
ECO facilitates student restoration projects across the Metro region and along the Oregon Coast. This year, students from 37 schools will work on restoration projects at 19 sites, on approximately 45 acres. ECO will coordinate all Newell Creek site activities with Oregon City parks staff.
Jonathan Waverly, the operations manager for the city's parks and cemetery, wrote a letter of support for the Newell Creek project to the grant review committee this spring.
"This location has been affected by clearing and human-caused impacts," he wrote. "Now in its second year of restoration, this site still requires more work to continue to improve the health of the watershed and surrounding area."
About 180 elementary school students are expected to help fortify the Newell Creek forest's edge with dense plantings of sun-loving native vegetation such as red-flowering currant, Oregon grape, bigleaf maple, vine maple and Nootka rose.
"The quality of the environment within the 3 acres will be improved by the hard work of local elementary students," Woods said. "By removing invasive vegetation such as English ivy and Himalayan blackberry and planting native vegetation, upland areas of the watershed will be made more diverse and resilient, helping to control erosion and improve water quality, while also improving habitat for local wildlife."
Woods said she was "trepidatious at first" at Newell Creek last year during her first day in the field working for ECO, because she was not sure how much students would enjoy such labor-intensive activity. She said she quickly realized her preconceived notions were misplaced.
After they learned to dig blackberry-cane roots, the students approached Woods with "determination in their eyes" to remove the largest blackberry root possible. Later she found a group of students cheering around a group of four who were holding up a massive root from a hole almost 2 feet deep and 3 feet wide.
"The sense of empowerment and satisfaction was visibly emanating from the students' faces as they held up the heart of the blackberry," she said. "It was at this moment I was filled with the unfamiliar feeling of hope for our future and knew I had found the right job."
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