University of Oregon honors Happy Valley environmental project
Last month an environmental enhancement project in Happy Valley, which was spurred on by train derailment between Canby and Oregon City, won an award from the University of Oregon.
UO's Museum of Natural and Cultural History gave its sixth-annual Oregon Stewardship Award to the Youth Rebuild Mt. Scott Watersheds, a project of the Rivers of Life Center to build trails in Happy Valley using damaged lumber from the derailed train.
In January 2021, 15 train cars left the tracks along Highway 99E near South End Road, according to the Clackamas County Sheriff's Office. Canby Fire Division Chief Matt English said he had not seen a derailment that large in this area before.
Rivers of Life Center, a nonprofit education and training organization serving Clackamas County, annually employs nearly 100 at-risk youth in teams to work with cities and agencies of the region to build and restore environments while developing the skills and educational experiences. The Union Pacific Foundation on Oct. 25 presented a $10,000 check to Rivers of Life to support work on watersheds and stream riparian areas in Clackamas County.
Administered by the museum's advisory council, UO's award recognized Rivers of Life for its project that "significantly involved its community" in an environmental or cultural heritage initiatives that align with the museum's mission to inspire stewardship of Oregon's collective past, present and future.
At Eagle Landing Golf Course in Happy Valley, Rivers of Life helped establish 2 miles of trails and wildlife habitat adjoining Mt. Scott Creek. The derailment's nearly 200 cubic yards of material, representing several rail cars worth of damaged lumber, became the nucleus for trails and enhancements on Mt. Scott and its various creeks and tributaries.
"Where there was nothing but debris and waste materials throughout the project area, a clean and beautiful wildlife-naturescape exists now," said Jerry Herrmann, Rivers of Life president.
Through the project, more than 200 youth restored more than 5 miles of creeks and streams of Mt. Scott in Clackamas County. Youth with the Rivers of Life program constructed habitats for beaver, muskrat, otter and native birds, as well as a network of trails and interpretive exhibits.
Under mentorship from biologists, naturalists and architects, participants in the program have learned skills and discovered opportunities for careers in rebuilding environments during climate change. Interpretative programs brought together experts on natural and cultural history in the community, from a program on birds of prey to a program tracing the interaction between Native tribes and white settlers in the region that included Clackamas and Molalla tribal members living in the area today.
"The museum's stewardship mission brings us into contact with Oregon heroes every day, people doing amazing work to protect and preserve our ecosystems, landscapes and cultures," said Jon Erlandson, executive director at the Museum of Natural and Cultural History. "The Youth Rebuild Mt. Scott Watersheds project exemplifies innovative work that is mitigating the effects of habitat degradation and climate change throughout Oregon and the Pacific Northwest."
"The natural area had issues over time. It had not been managed well. This project put trails in, cleaned up garbage and turned it into a place people can use rather than a place people can avoid," said State Sen. Bill Kennemer, who represents Oregon City. "Beyond that, the project has built trails during the pandemic for people to use outside their homes. It has provided opportunities and created unlikely partnerships. And it has been successful in helping young men find their way back."
Youth Rebuild Mt. Scott Watersheds was chosen for the award out of a group of five finalists that included Noche Cultural, a project from Comunidad y Herencia Culutral in Springfield; a remembrance project at Mt. Union Cemetery in Corvallis, the first cemetery in Oregon to allow the interment of Black people; the Youth Conservation Crew summer program from the Coast Fork Willamette Watershed Council; and the Rasor Park Wetland Prairie Restoration project.
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