Saving Our Oceans…One Road at a Time!

Photos and text by SOLVE Jesuit Volunteer Northwest AmeriCorps Member Lauren McKenna

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In 30 minutes, one class of Valley Catholic High School students did a litter cleanup around their school in Beaverton, OR. Here’s a glimpse of what litter they found:

1 Plastic bottle

2 Road plastic reflector 

9 Tennis balls

10 Plastic coffee lids

15+ Candy wrappers

5 Balloons

1 Shoe

1 Rubber car piece

1 Cardboard box

1 Tissue pack

75+ Cigarette butts

This is not even looking at gazillion shreds of food wrappers and plastic bags, tires, discarded carpets, and Styrofoam pellets that were too heavy to lift, too numerous to collect, or too far underneath blackberry brambles to reach.

Litter areas for tomorrow

Notice the area around Valley Catholic School… a lot of impervious parking lots and roads, especially in the north-east corner.

Litter is not just an eyesore.  Take a look at your neighborhood and at what surfaces are impervious — like parking lots, roads, concrete and rooftops that do not let water soak through them (see map below).  Whatever trash, as well as oil and sediment, is on these impervious surfaces get washed into the nearby creek.  And where do all waterways lead?….. to the ocean!

Currents in the Pacific ocean converge in the North Pacific Gyre.  That is where the North Pacific Garbage Patch is … twice the size of the continental United States and contains 100 million tons of plastic and outnumbers plankton 6 to 1!

This is a photo of lanternfish (Mytophids) and microplastic debris collected at the surface in the North Pacific gyre (Credit: James Leichter/Marine Photobank)

Plastics do not biodegrade like, for example, your compost pile does.  They just break down into smaller and smaller pieces of plastic, which can absorb toxins like mercury, DDT and PCBs.  Animals mistake the plastic for food and fill up, but often starve to death because they are full of plastic, not food.  Plus the toxin bioaccumulate as you go up the food web.  About 1 million seabirds and 1000,000 marine mammals die each year from ingesting or getting tangled in marine trash. (Facts source: Surfrider Foundation)


About 80% of marine debris comes from the mainland.  Check out these links for ways YOU can reduce your use of plastic and save your oceans!

Surfrider Foundation: Rise Above Plastics

SOLVE’s Tsunami Debris Response 

And sign up for the SOLVE Spring Oregon Beach Cleanup on March 30th here!


THANK YOU to teacher Erin Cole and her class!

Sun is shining, the weather is sweet!

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“Sun is shining, the weather is sweet…”
~ Bob Marley

Ms. Cole’s Environmental Science class (lovingly known as the Envi Sci class) visited Johnson Creek to reflect on their time there so far, how they have helped improve the health of the creek and how nice it is to get at least one sunny day at the creek!

Then the class scoped out a location to do continued water quality data collection throughout the next semester, for anylsis at the end of the year. We finished the visit with a photo-opp by the creek!

Thanks you, Valley Catholic, for your hard work this semester!

Long Live Cottonwoods!!!!

Written by SOLVE Jesuit Volunteer Northwest Member Lauren McKenna

Return of the Environmental Science kids!!!

Today, Ms. Cole’s class got to find some cottonwood trees and Pacific Ninebark shrubs and CHOP THEM UP!  ….And turn them into bioengineered live cuttings.  Since Johnson Creek is much higher than normal, we decided to install the cutting along the trail, so they don’t get washed away!

Thank you, Valley Catholic for your willingness to chop branches in frigid temperatures!

The 12 Days Green Team!

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Written by SOLVE Jesuit Volunteer Northwest Members Lauren McKenna and Nicole Poletto

Though weather outside was frightful,

The day was still delightful!

Despite the wintry chill, these students planted 100 native Douglas-fir, Western Red Cedar, Grand Fir, Snowberry, Oceaspray, Red Elderberry, White Oak and Vine Maple! And removed dozens of invasive blackberry roots.  AND removed eight giant boards for more room to plant.  AND found some rough-skinned newts and salamanders!  AND rewrote this holiday classic… Featuring Ms. Cole, Ms. Lacks’ and their Valley Catholic High School Biology students!

THANK YOU, Valley Catholic for your dedication to Johnson Creek!  Happy Holidays…and see you in the spring!

An afternoon of planting at Johnson Creek

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Written by SOLVE Jesuit Volunteer Corps Northwest member Nicole Poletto

Valley Catholic HS @ Johnson Creek on 11.30.12

Even though it was the last day of November, the students were greeted by a relatively warm and clear winter day; perfect weather to plant in!  The students were excited to be out in the fresh air on a Friday afternoon and to continue their stewarding efforts at Johnson Creek.

Before we planted, we learned how to identify native plants by looking at the plant’s lateral buds.  If the arrangement of the buds is opposite, you are in luck!  There are only about 6 natives that we plant that are opposites, and those are our friends SAM and TED.

S: Snowberry                                       T: Twinberry

A: Alder                                                 E: Elderberry

M: Maples                                             D: Dogwood

One alternatively arranged plant that the students were less familiar with was Oceanspray.  In late spring, Oceanspray blooms large white flower plumes that droop from the plant (how it got its name).  Since the wood is so strong, it has historically been used to make nails, arrows, and spears!



We planted 34 plants before it was time to head back to classes and math tests.   Thanks for all of your dedication Valley Catholic!

All in a Day’s Work

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Written by SOLVE Jesuit Volunteer Northwest Member Lauren McKenna

Five freshmen biology classes from Valley Catholic High School showed up at Johnson Creek near their school to remove some invasive plants, and got some surprises, too.  Under an overcast sky (it IS October now!), they worked together as a class to remove Armenian blackberry (Rubus armeniacus).  This thorny, brambly shrub used to cover the restoration area up over your head!  With the help of these students, enough blackberry has been chopped, dug up and cleared away to soon plant more native plants like Pacific Ninebark, Douglas-fir, and Oregon Grape.

Some students found a salamander hanging out in the brush!  They decided it needed to be a little closer to the water so they brought it to the creek!  Later in the day, another student found a rough-skinned newt!  This little critter was hiding under a dead blackberry cane in the dirt, so we moved him closer to some lusher native vegetation.  Herman the worm, also just chillin’ by the creek was found by a couple students and moved out of the battle zone where all the chopping and lopping of blackberry was happening.

Rough-skinned Newt (Taricha granulosa):this cute critter secretes a toxin that could be harmful…if you ate it.  Look, but don’t eat!

Another great discovery was simply the size of the pile of dead blackberry and the magnitude of the work the students did that day.  A HUGE improvement!  Now the cleared space will be ready for a native plant planting soon!

AWESOME work Valley Catholic!   A big thank you teachers Erin Cole and Amy Lacks, and their hard-working students!

Starting the Year with(out) Blackberries

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Written by SOLVE Jesuit Volunteer Northwest Members Lauren McKenna and Meghan Ballard, SOLVE Green Team Program Coordinator

Valley Catholic High School Environmental Science students may have just started their school year, but invasive blackberry have already come back to Johnson Creek near their school.  Which is actually perfect timing, because that is just what these students worked hard to remove.  They started their short but full class period with a “Riparian Metaphors” game comparing positive characterisitcs of healthy waterways to everyday objects.  Then away they went hacking at the Armenian Blackberry that started to regrow on the site near Johnson Creek, shovels and rakes and loppers, oh my!

Most of the small native plants there are doing excellent, but removing the blackberry is essential in allowing the new native plants to thrive, as opposed to being suffocated by invasives.  It’s important to not only cut down the tall, thorny blackberry canes, some of which tower overhead, but to also dig out the gnarly roots so it does not grow back.  After a whirlwind period of chopping, digging up and raking, the class had removed a large pile of blackberry so that the next time they visit this site, they can plant more native plants.  Success!

Thanks for your hard work!  We are so excited that you are part of Green Team this year and are already showing the fierceness necessary to conquer invasives and save Johnson Creek!

Caroline, Emma, and the Red eared slider

Caroline and Emma with the Red Eared Slider found at Johnson Creek in the forest behind Valley Catholic High School.

My name is Emma Etheridge and I am a rising junior at Duke University in North Carolina, but am originally from Portland, Oregon. It’s great being back in such a beautiful city and I’m very excited to have the opportunity to intern with SOLVE for the next two months!  I am volunteering through a program that Duke offers called DukeEngage. DukeEngage takes place in various cities all over the world and participating students do many types of volunteering; the Portland program has an environmental and sustainability emphasis. I am majoring in economics and psychology, but am very interested in sustainability which is what drew me to the Portland program to begin with. In my spare time I like to hike, run, read, and dance.

Hi! My name is Caroline Lehman and I’m a sophomore at Duke University. I’m so excited to be working with Emma at SOLVE this summer. At Duke, I’m majoring in Civil and Environmental Engineering and am eager to learn more about sustainability and the environment. I’m from Southern California and love exploring everything it has to offer–from kayaking in the ocean to hiking up to the Hollywood sign. I love staying active by playing basketball, tennis, and running.

In our first two days at SOLVE we’ve been given a tour of the office and met many coworkers who are eager to teach and very positive thinkers. We’ve been working with Charlie and Gina at a site in Johnson Creek and in the forest behind Valley Catholic High School. Today was especially exciting! We learned how to identify many native and invasive plants and had training on how to monitor sites like the one near Valley Catholic High School. We loved being outside all day, and luckily the Portland rain held off the entire time we were outside. The most exciting part of our work today was running across a Red Eared Slider in the middle of the trail! Red Eared Sliders are an invasive species from the eastern U.S. that grow to be a lot bigger than our native turtles. This particular turtle was about the size of a dinner plate and was pretty cute. Even so, it was our job to remove him from the site because invasive species like the Red Eared Slider compete with native turtles for food and habitat.  For most of the next two months, we will be working closely with Charlie and Gina on monitoring sites on both the East and West sides of the river. We will also be collecting a sample microinvertebrate kit to help with future green team projects and creating a water threshold model for educational demonstrations. We’re thrilled to be working outdoors this summer with such great people and to make a positive environmental impact!

Time to Celebrate: West Side Student Summit

The hard work is over and now it is time to celebrate. Students part of SOLVE’s Green Team Program on the West Side of the Willamette have been working tirelessly all year- learning about riparian ecology and doing active stream restoration. They have spent many days in pouring rain, thick mud, and weaving through thorny blackberry to improve the health of their watersheds. Now, it was time to share our findings and accomplishments with one another, our funders, scientists in the field, and the entire community.

Students arrived in clothes very different from the usual muddy rain gear we are familiar with and we began listening to Meghan (SOLVE) welcome us to the event and thank us all for our hard work. Next, Sarah Pinnock, Wetlands Education Specialist at Jackson Bottom Wetlands Preserve, gave our keynote speech. She has a degree in Environmental Science from Marylhurst University.  She has been an educator and naturalist in the Northwest for 25 years, and has been a Wetlands Education Specialist at Jackson Bottom Wetlands Preserve for almost 13 years. Sarah designs and delivers field science programs and traveling programs for schools and groups, summer camps, adult and family programs. She encouraged us to look for the thing we love doing and to never be afraid to pursue it. It was so great to hear her inspirational words of wisdom!

Next, students presented on topics of their choice from their year working with SOLVE. We heard about everything from how plants sequester carbon to how macroinvertebrates tell us about the quality of the water in our streams. We heard about the incredible amount of work students have done to remove blackberry, ivy, morning glory, Reed canary grass, and to plant native trees and shrubs and take care of them. As a whole, Green Teams on the West Side have planted 2,800 trees and shrubs this school year.

Then we headed out to the lobby to hear about summer internship opportunities and admire all of the incredible garbage art and writing reflections of fellow Green Team students.

Together, as Green Team students in the Portland-Metro area you all have demonstrated that the power of young, informed, and devoted students is unstoppable. Your willingness to learn about the rivers in your backyard and turn that information into positive change is absolutely unbelievable. This positive energy and eagerness to make a difference will truly make this world a better place- in honesty, it already has.

Thank you all so much for being a part of Green Team this year. Congratulations to all of you dedicated stewards of your streams!

Angiosperm Intervention: Turning Knowledge into Responsibility

Written by SOLVE Jesuit Volunteer Corps Northwest Member, Gina Graziano

Valley Catholic High School had been learning about plants and the way they are classified and divided in the classroom. They heard about seed dispersal, the various ways plants produce seeds, and how plants differ from each other. Then, they walked back to Johnson Creek to apply that information to work that would make a huge difference. These students have been constantly using information they learn in the classroom to further understand the concepts and use their knowledge for good out at Johnson Creek this year. We at Valley Catholic believe Spiderman may have been right- with great knowledge comes great responsibility.

And taking responsibility for the health of Johnson Creek is something VCHS students are not afraid to do! We played a guessing game where I described a plant as something that has leaves that are palmately compound, with 5 leaflets, big thorns, produces a flower and a berry.. and before I could say anymore students guessed it! Perhaps you blog readers have guessed it by now too! Yep, Armenian Blackberry. Students said it was an angiosperm and it disperses its seeds through delicious, attractive berries. Animals will eat these berries, defecate them, and the seeds will grow into new plants. While this is a very wonderful, efficient way of dispersing seeds for our native angiosperms, we would rather these Armenian Blackberries not spread all over our site.

We reviewed that these berries will not form until later in the summer and realized our time was very precious! After this realization, we put on some gloves, grabbed a tool, and destroyed the angiosperm known as Armenian/ Himalayan blackberry as fast as possible. We found vines entangled over 15 feet high in Douglas Fir trees, wrapped around native Red Twig Dogwoods, Cottonwoods, and Snow berries. We cut them down and dug them out.

Thank you, Valley Catholic High School, for not just coming out to do the work and heading back into the classroom- but for really caring about the science behind the issues, understanding the problem, and using your knowledge to take responsibility for the health of your watershed. The world will be a better place with your devotion of turning information into positive change and we at SOLVE are so glad to have been witness to that.