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Otto Petersen Elementary students help plant 450 native species along Scappoose Creek as part of restoration project

SPOTLIGHT PHOTO: NICOLE THILL-PACHECO - Tonya McLean, an environmental educator with the Lower Columbia Estuary Partnership, shows a group of students the best way to plant the native species in the ground. She demonstrated how to dig a hole big enough for the plant and then how to set it in place before sending the students off to do it themselves.Fourth-grade students at Otto Petersen Elementary School had the chance to participate in the restoration of South Scappoose Creek earlier this week.

During the school week starting Oct. 22, students spent three days working with members of the Lower Columbia River Estuary Council helping to plant 450 native species on the banks of Scappoose Creek in Veterans Park.

On Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, Oct. 23-25, Tonya McLean, an environmental educator with the Lower Columbia Estuary Partnership, showed students from six different classes how to correctly plant the native species.

Scappoose Bay Watershed Council organized the two-year creek restoration project. Normally, education coordinators from the Lower Columbia Estuary reach out to the council before visiting schools to see where a partnership might make sense.

SPOTLIGHT PHOTO: NICOLE THILL-PACHECO - Fourth-grade students from Otto Petersen Elementary School helped plant hundreds of native species along the banks of Scappoose Creek this week. Pictured here from left to right, Jazmine Tate, Riley Beldon, Liliana Peterson and Alexa Sheldon dig holes for their plantings.  Usually students help with trail restoration near Scappoose Bay Marina, but

this year it made sense to have them help with the creek restoration, McLean explained.

During the week, students helped plant a variety of native species like Oregon ash, dogwood, yarrow, cascara, oak and snowberry, with each class planting 75 plants.

Throughout the schoolyear, educators from the Lower Columbia Estuary Partnership work with students in Oregon and Washington by making classroom visits, going on river trips, participating in service projects and more.

McLean said she was impressed with the students' willingness to get their hands dirty and how enthusiastic they were to be involved in the Scappoose project. She also noted the students seemed to understand the impact they can have on the environment with their involvement.

"They're smart and energetic and really understand the value of this work," McLean added. "They know that if don't do this part of the project, then it just won't get done. They understand how to be stewards of this environment this way."

Working on the restoration project has been part of a broader unit of study on estuaries at Otto Petersen. Students have taken part fish dissections, have learned about native plants species, and also had the chance to visit the Scappoose Bay Marina.

SPOTLIGHT PHOTO: NICOLE THILL-PACHECO - Fourth-graders Landen Limbaugh and Elijah Greenan-Biggs check to see if their shrub will fit before removing it from the black, plastic container. The boys said they enjoyed the project and took the time to name each plant they put into the ground. Many of the students said they enjoyed learning more about the environment and getting to help plant trees in Veterans Park. Fourth-graders Liliana Peterson and Alexa Sheldon said they especially enjoyed getting to learn new material during the unit and enjoyed taking part in the planting. Students Landen Limbaugh and Elijah Greenan-Biggs had fun by naming each plant as they put it in the ground.

"My favorite part is when we get [the plants] out and get the soil around it," Greenan-Biggs noted as he helped pat down dirt around a shrub. "It looks really pretty then."

Both boys said they liked being out in nature. Limbaugh added that he enjoyed being able to help improve the habitat.

Restoration of South Scappoose Creek has been an ongoing effort by the Scappoose Bay Watershed Council and will include the planting of nearly 7,000 plants along the banks of the creek over the next few months, coordinator Pat Welle explained.

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