SH youths making strides toward understanding, improving local watersheds

Sean C. Morgan

Sweet Home City Council recognized the members of the South Santiam Youth Watershed Council for adopting a park last week and this week the group is scheduled to give an annual report to its parent organization, the South Santiam Watershed Council.

Six years after it was established, the youth group is staying busy around Sweet Home. It is the first group to host a work party in the city’s parks as part of the new adopt-a-park program, held April 11.

“Basically, we maintain and rebuild on local watersheds in Sweet Home,” said high school sophomore Elea Hewitt. “We have several projects we participate in.”

Those range from planting native plant species to rebuilding banks, she said.

“We practice our identification skills with the vegetation.” They record their findings and then compare them over time. They can analyze bank erosion and quantify the process.

The Youth Watershed Council has an ongoing project along the south bank of the South Santiam River at Camco, Inc. and Rainier Wood Products, Inc., 1500 Tamarack St.; and they’re preparing for a new restoration project in the “Foster Forest,” a patch of woods at Foster Elementary School.

The 10 high school students involved in the program also routinely survey and study the rivers in the watershed.

The South Santiam Watershed Council started the program in 2009. Coordinator Angela Clegg began leading the organization in 2011.

“We’ve gone from just doing simple projects with the Watershed Council and the Forest Service to doing full-fledged projects the last two years,” Clegg said.

The group has adopted Lower Sankey Park, she said.

Sophomore Dawson Guzman noted that the students recently led the Sankey Park clean-up.

“It’s one of the required events that we have to do.”

In addition to a work party to pick up trash and remove non-native species, like blackberries, from the banks of Ames Creek, the students have designed new interpretive signs, Clegg said. Those signs will replace old damaged signs installed years ago after the city replaced the pond with a wetlands area.

One sign details the work the Youth Watershed Council is doing in the park, and the other will describe the fish and wildlife species. The new signs will be built and installed this summer.

The Ames Creek project ended up being a perfect fit for the youths, Clegg said. The South Santiam Watershed Council completed a fish ladder project at the mouth of Ames Creek, and the students are working upstream from there.

Along the South Santiam, the Youth Watershed Council had a contractor go in and clear out blackberries, ivy and cherry trees, she said. The group will need to do another round of it. The students are developing a planting plan, and they’ll plant native species along the bank.

They also will snorkel a side channel there to see what kind of fish are living there, Clegg said.

The Youth Watershed Council, high school Forestry Club and district officials will go before the School Board next month for approval of a project that will remove invasive species from the Foster Forest, replacing them with native species and installing a gravel path, possibly with benches.

If approved, that project will begin this summer, Clegg said.

The council is working through the city planning office with Planning Services Manager Laura LaRoque to line up additional restoration projects.

They’ve also been talking with Sweet Home Economic Development Group representatives about working on the former Knife River quarry property, Clegg said. “It would be great for these guys. We could do a lot of our stuff down on the river.”

The SHEDG board has been discussing opportunities to involve education programs and the Youth Watershed Council as it works with the Linn County Board of Commissioners to take over the property, located along the river west of Clark Mill Drive.

As people get to know the Youth Watershed Council, Clegg said, she is hoping that more property owners along the river will provide more project opportunities.

At school, the students do not receive credit yet for their work, Clegg said, “We build job skills.”

They help with writing grant applications, interacting with property owners, identifying plants and animals, surveying and more. They measure slope, water depth and canopy cover – much of the same work Clegg does during the summer.

Hewitt said she has grown up hearing terms like “invasive species.”

“We really wanted to discover what these meant,” she said.

Hewitt lives on a farm, she said, and she can take what she’s learning about the environment back to her farm to help preserve the streams on her family’s property and improve life for their cattle. For example, cattle walking through a creek makes the ground marshy, making it useless for pasture or drinking water for the cattle.

Junior Shiloh Moore said she finds the work fun, and Guzman enjoys activities he wouldn’t normally get to do every day, referring specifically to a visit to the South Santiam Fish Hatchery where the students help euthanize and spawn steelhead.

“I like working outdoors,” said Guzman, adding that he’s looking for opportunities to develop his group interaction skills.

Clegg is talking with Sweet Home School District officials about college credit for these students, she said, possibly through the fifth-year program. She also hopes to develop a junior program for junior high students.

She also has been talking with Youth Conservation Corps and Northwest Youth Corps representatives to develop some kind of program to continue the work through the summer.

“These guys work hard,” Clegg said. “They literally do the work the adult Watershed Council is doing, just on a smaller scale. They need to get credit.”