Volunteers gathered to plant more than 200 seedlings on decommissioned forest road

Just up the hill from Lost Creek, the path that used to be Forest Service Road 111 is a maze of de-compacted earth, fallen trees and stream crossings.POST PHOTO: KYLIE WRAY - Christy Slovacek and Don Mench leave a trail of adolescent western red cedars as they plant their way up decommissioned Forest Service Road 111 on Saturday, Nov. 21.

Over the next several years, the more than 200 trees that were planted on the road on Saturday, Nov. 21, will begin reclaiming the barren space for the Mt. Hood National Forest.

Previously used for logging, Forest Service Road 111 was decommissioned by the federal agency in July 2015.

Because of its proximity to Lost Creek, which is habitat for Coho salmon and steelhead trout, and the danger of its unmaintained culverts, the road was prioritized for Zigzag Ranger District’s ongoing decommissioning program.

Zigzag District Ranger Bill Westbrook said roads are decommissioned as funds become available and with priority to immediate threats to nearby wildlife habitat.

“We will continue to take hard looks at that stuff,” Westbrook said to volunteers before Saturday’s planting.POST PHOTO: KYLIE WRAY - Zigzag District Ranger Bill Westbrook helps load buckets of cedar seedlings into the truck to be planted on Road 111.

Don Mench, a Zigzag resident and board member with the Mt. Hood Stewardship Council, talked of Road 111’s logging days in the 1960s, ’70s and ’80s as he planted his way up the road.

“Now, here we are with a road that really has no purpose,” he noted. “The failing of the road was threatening Lost Creek.”

Mench also expressed his pride in being a part of the next chapter of the road.

“It will always be on the map, but it won’t be a maintenance problem,” he added.

When Road 111 was decommissioned in July, its access road was riddled with pot holes. But with recently freed funds, the Forest Service was able to repair the road, which also is the access route to the popular Burnt Lake Trailhead.

On Saturday, Forest Service personnel and volunteers from the Portland-based nonprofit group Bark and the community gathered to help Mother Nature along in repopulating the former road with vegetation. POST PHOTO: KYLIE WRAY - Mitch Williams, a board member of the Mt. Hood Stewardship Council, plants seedlings on Forest Service Road 111 on Saturday, Nov. 21.

Volunteers planted more than 200 western red cedar seedlings, which Bark Restoration Coordinator Russ Plaeger said will help round out the area’s population of alders and western hemlock. He added that they also are flexible, long-living trees.

“The trees we plant will have the potential to be growing 300-400 years from now,” Plaeger said prior to Saturday’s event.

In addition to lovingly planting the young cedars, volunteers working near the road’s recently uncovered stream crossings were responsible for replanting willow cuttings.

“Willows are one of the plants, one of the hardwoods locally, that has the ability to put out new roots from what was essentially a limb of the willow,” Plaeger explained. POST PHOTO: KYLIE WRAY - Russ Plaegar, restoration coordinater for Bark, gives a tutorial on how to correctly plant western red cedar seedlings.

The willow cuttings were trimmed from the Forest Service’s local grove of willows and replanted in the damp stream banks along Road 111.

“It’s a very effective way to get some plants at low cost that will grow fast,” Plaeger added. “I’ve seen them grow a couple of feet in a summer if they get enough water. I sometimes call them magic sticks because they’re able to do all that.”

Willows also produce extensive root systems that will help stabilize the fragile stream banks.

As the trees grow, they provide shade for the creek to help lower water temperatures, and their falling leaves become food for water insects.POST PHOTO: KYLIE WRAY - Saturday's littlest volunteer and her mom, from Bark, watch as cedar seedlings are uprooted and prepared to be moved to their new homes.

“We’re just picking up on what nature’s done for a long time,” Plaeger said. “The main thing is, we’re hoping to get a forest re-established.”

Bark, a nonprofit organization that works to preserve and restore the Mt. Hood National Forest, often works at odds with the Forest Service over logging and other controversial issues.

But both Bark and Forest Service personnel agreed that collaboration on projects such as this can be very helpful.

“It means that we can help get important work done that maybe they don’t have the funding or the staff for,” Plaeger said. “When you get out and work together, that’s an excellent way to get to know one another.

“And it gets away from the ‘them’ and ‘us’ mentality. Because they’re real people. That’s really valuable. You can learn a lot from one another.”POST PHOTO: KYLIE WRAY - Sandy High School sophomores Morgan Seipert and Matthew Johnson help plant seedlings on Saturday.

Mitch Williams, a volunteer and fellow stewardship council board member to Mench, also noticed the significance of the collection of people planting the trees Saturday.

“For them, they continue to be able to collaborate,” Williams noted. “That’s what I thought was so inspiring.”

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