Efforts pour into watershed park

INDEPENDENCE -- The once-neglected south fork of Ash Creek near Mountain Fir Park has undergone some major changes during the past couple of months.

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Thousands of native plants have been planted ear Ash Creek at Mountain Fir Park in Independence. Volunteers also "tubed" them as protection against gnawing rodents.

INDEPENDENCE -- The once-neglected south fork of Ash Creek near Mountain Fir Park has undergone some major changes during the past couple of months.

Much of the invasive vegetation that choked the creek banks has been cleared away and replaced by thousands of newly planted shrubs and trees.

And this summer, the pile of concrete debris that was once the the old Mountain Fir Timber Co. dam will be removed.

The hope is that the park on F Street will eventually shine as a nature trail and place where fish and wildlife can be seen in the middle of the city, said Michael Cairns of the Luckiamute Watershed Council (LWC).

The restoration of wetland on the site has been an ongoing effort between Cairn's organization, the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, Independence, and other agencies since 2005.

"We're going to see a very diverse mixture of native plants in and around the creek," Cairns said, "and a very natural stream system that has been used as a log pond for decades.

"It will be a great place for kids to get a little sense of nature in the city."

The $55,000 project is being funded through grants from the Oregon Watershed Enhancement Board, the Ash Creek Water Control District and other sources, while the city and LWC have provided in-kind contributions.

The dam was built by Mountain Fir decades ago to raise water levels and create holding ponds for dioxin-treated lumber. But the mill closed in 1992, and the fam deteriorated and collapsed in 2004.

Independence owns the land that contains the south fork, but had no plans to remove the dam when LWC proposed a wetland restoration of the area in 2005, Cairns has said.

Though much of Ash Creek winds through urban areas, it serves as a shelter for juvenile trout and salmon before they are washed into the strong winter currents of the Willamette River.

As part of the project, the LWC and its partners will remove the dam and scatter 40 to 50 boulders in its place, to stabilize the banks and create pockets of calm water fish can use as refuge.

Removing the dam will allow fish to swim another 5 or 6 miles upstream, while new plants will shade the stream and cool its temperature during the summer.

The parties had planned to clear the dam in early fall of 2006 -- when the water level was at its lowest -- but couldn't acquire permits for stream work in time.

Cairns said he hopes to see the removal take place in August or September of this year. Other restoration components, however, have already taken place in the past few months.

City crews hauled away trees downed in the park during a windstorm in December. Youth involved in the Polk County Juvenile Community Service program put in 140 hours earlier this year, cutting down poplars, tearing out weeds and doing other site preparation.

In February, specialists planted about 3,500 native plants along the banks and stream delta, including Western red cedar, white alder, dogwood and Douglas spirea.

And recently, 27 LWC volunteers wrapped each of the plants in protective mesh tubes.

Cairns said he plans to recruit people in the future to help maintain the site.

"We'll be using weedeaters to try and control the invasive stuff," he said, "and doing watering because there are no water pipes on the property, or even electricity to run a pump.

"We want to give the new vegetation an opportunity to flourish during the first year or two."

The restoration project will coincide with the city's plans to develop a nature trail in Mountain Fir Park along the length of the the stream corridor, said Shawn Irvine, Independence community development technician.

A path will connect the property to a new park in south Independence, to be constructed as part of a 198-unit housing development off Seventh Street, Irvine said.

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The Luckiamute Watershed Council (LWC) is seeking new members to represent agriculture, industrial timber and other stakeholder groups.

Applicants should be interested in improving the Ash Creek and Luckiamute River watersheds. Member responsibilities include attending monthly LWC meetings and committee participation.

All may apply, but experience in fundraising, non-profit development, restoration, education/outreach or time to volunteer is a plus.

For more information, contact Michael Cairns at 838-4275 or LWC@wou.edu. The next LWC meeting is on April 12 at Volunteer Hall.

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