Students from Rachel Carson Environmental Middle School’s Green Team came out to their restoration site this week to learn about the site’s history and continue the good work they have been doing there for nearly a decade. Students from this year’s Green Team have been working at this site once a month all year but they’ve never had a chance to explore the site and learn about the legacy that past Rachel Carson students have left here.
The first stop was the first spot where Rachel Carson Students started working on this site over 8 years ago. What is now a large stand of 30 foot tall willow trees and 12 foot high bunches of spirea and wild rose was once a vast field of reed canary grass. On that first day in 2004, all 80 Rachel Carson students came together in this (freshly mowed) field in a circle and planted the first plants at Willow Creek. Willow creek is now living up to her name as there is a large forest of mature willow trees that are providing shade and soil stability in this riparian zone, all the legacy from these first few years there.
The second stop on our tour of Willow Creek was a site a little downstream that Rachel Carson students have been working on for the past 6 years. What was once a giant mountain of Armenian blackberry canes is now a thriving community of young willow, dogwood, and alder trees. We found a lot of signs of beavers here, including a tree stump 5 inches in diameter that was completely felled by beavers. This is good news that beaver are moving back into willow creek. Invasive nutria used to be frequently seen at this site, but not any more! It looks like beaver have taken back their home.
Our third stop was at a site that we have been trying to turn back into an Oak Savanna habitat, a habitat that used to be pretty common throughout the Willamette Valley. Since european settlers moved in 200 years ago, they have suppressed the natural and man-made fires that would maintain these open ecosystems. This kind of restoration, however, is slow going as oak trees are notoriously slow growers as seen by the fact that the oak saplings that Rachel Carson students planted more than 3 years ago have barely grown a foot.
Finally, our fourth and final stop was a newer and the currently most active site for restoration. Rachel Carson has only been working there for a couple of years, including this year where over 300 plants were planted. A lot of care and maintenance is needed at this site as these new young plants are still susceptible to being overtaken by the reed canary grass. Therefore, students ended their site tour by stapling biodegradable coffee bags around the base of the newly planted natives. This will inhibit the grass’ growth for the coming spring around the young plants and give the natives the growing room they need.
We loved walking this tour with the Rachel Carson students; the questions and comments they were making were awesome and very insightful. It was exciting to see the impact we can make on these degraded stream sites and we look forward to many more future visits by the enthusiastic kids at Rachel Carson