Visit Camassia to learn about a native ecosystem
Editor's note: WLACC volunteer Keli Stevens shares information about West Linn's Camassia Nature Preserve, located not far from the center. You might be inspired to visit it after reading her information.
Did you know that our beautiful Camassia Nature Preserve is a white oak savanna? White oak savannas are specialized ecosystems that are essential to many of our native species. At one time, these areas could be found all along the Willamette Valley; sadly only about two percent remain.
White oak savannas differ from a closed canopy woodland in that they are comprised of mostly prairie, or wet grassland, with a few sporadic white oak trees growing in their midst. Able to tolerate the wet ground of the floodplains much better than the taller, fast-growing Douglas fir, the white oaks were able to soak up as much sun as they needed. Sunlight is the most important factor to white oak.
They need large amounts of sun to survive. Beaver activity also helped the white oak to thrive, keeping the flood plains wet and discouraging Douglas fir from encroaching. Later, native people would intentionally burn the white oak savannas to push back the coniferous forest and improve their hunting areas.
While Douglas fir burned easily, the white oaks usually remained standing. Strong, slow growth, resistance to fire and abundant foliage made these trees a perfect habitat for native snakes, red tail hawks, red leg frogs, native sap suckers and a vast array of other birds and animals.
Many plants and flowers, such as camas, also depended on these native ecological relationships to grow.
For many thousands of years, the white oak savannas flourished and were vital to the natural biodiversity of this area. When man introduced dams, farming, irrigation, mass beaver hunting and human innovation to the land, the uniquely balanced ecosystems found in the white oak savannas were largely destroyed, and they eventually all but collapsed.
The floodplains dried out, allowing Douglas fir to move in, and dense forests took the place of native savannas. The fir trees grew fast and tall, blocking the sunlight. The land changed, so did the ecosystems that lived on it.
Today much of the land around us is radically different in terms of ecology and sustainability. The Nature Conservancy recognizes the key role these endangered native areas play and are working to ensure their survival. Natural parks and preserves, like Camassia, are managed and returned to native conditions. Private landowners are encouraged to plant native plants and trees in their landscaping projects. Public education and awareness are growing.
You can learn more about the history and ecological importance of white oak savannas on a guided hike through Camassia Nature Preserve with the West Linn Parks naturalist on Thursday, April 11.
The hikers will explore the flora and fauna of the nature preserve, then go through Maddax Woods, followed by lunch at the popular Stillhouse in Oregon City. This bus trip will leave the West Linn Adult Community Center at 10 a.m. and return around 2 p.m.
The transportation cost is $5. If you are interested in this informative and scenic excursion, sign up at the WLACC desk to reserve your spot.
There is no better way to say it. Join us as we explore the beauty of Camassia and listen to what it says.
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The lunch menu this week features meatballs with marinara sauce, spaghetti, carrots and chocolate cupcakes on Friday, April 5; pork stew with brown rice, broccoli and cookies and cream pie on Monday, April 8 and baked potato soup, turkey sandwiches and lemon meringue pie on Wednesday, April 10. Cost is $5 per person; lunch is served at noon.
Contact the WLACC at 503-557-4704, or stop by at 1180 Rosemont Road, West Linn 97068.
Keli Stevens is a volunteer at the West Linn Adult Community Center.
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