On a drizzly Friday morning, students from iTech Preparatory school descended on Abrams Park in Ridgefield to plant greenery intended to benefit the habitat of Gee Creek.
The volunteers planted tall Oregon grape and Pacific ninebark along the northern bank of the creek on the west side of the park. The event was put on by the Watershed Alliance of Southwest Washington, in partnership with the Lower Columbia Fish Recovery Board.
The plantings featured mostly shrubs with a few trees, Watershed Alliance of Southwest Washington Deputy Director Anna Wilde said. In total, the project included 1,400 bare roots that were ready to go in the ground along the riverbank.
For Friday’s event, the volunteers were mostly from iTech Preparatory. When looking for a place to plant, Wilde said the alliance or one of their partners identifies the sites. Those partners include the Lower Columbia Fish Recovery Board, city of Ridgefield staff and others.
“It’s a very organic process,” Wilde said.
The alliance’s restoration efforts began along Burnt Bridge Creek in Vancouver, Wilde said. Last year, the group started organizing events in Ridgefield.
Helping out on Friday was staff from Green Banks, an environmental consultant. Wilde said the staff helps with site preparation, which includes the removal of invasive species.
The mix of shrubs and trees is intended to create a layered cover of plants, Wilde said. The plants will act as a kind of filter for stormwater runoff flowing into Gee Creek. The roots of the plants also shore up the riverbank. When the plants are fully grown, they will also provide shade, keeping the river cool, while providing better habitat for salmon.
“Stream temperature is a huge problem for salmon,” Wilde said.
Gee Creek was identified as a good candidate for restoration by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, since the water of the creek makes its way to the Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge, Wilde said.
The planting wasn’t the end of the project at Abrams Park. Wilde said signs will be placed in the area with information on how the planting benefits the Gee Creek habitat. The alliance also plans on planting indigenous “First Foods” at the site.
The end of the planting season approaches in February, Wilde said. During the warmer months, the watershed alliance will still do outreach at various events in the city, she added.
Though Friday’s project wasn’t specifically a partnership with the watershed alliance and the City of Ridgefield, Galina Burley, the city parks, trails and recreation manager, stopped by to see the work.
Burley’s position with the city is a new one. It’s an effort to consolidate the city’s parks and trails work into one department, she said.
“Now we have kind of a more focused approach and this just seemed like the right place to start,” Burley said about the tree plantings.
The prior weekend, the city helped coordinate a similar effort at Horns Corner Park off of South Royle Road.
This summer the city, in partnership with the YMCA, will organize youth summer camps at Abrams Park and the Ridgefield Outdoor Recreation Complex, Burley said. The city has heard loud and clear that its parks system is a priority for its residents.
“It is something that the community definitely values,” Burley said.