GOLD HILL — A helicopter raining seeds where Gold Ray Dam's powerhouse used to be became the newest weapon against blackberries along banks of the Rogue River exposed by the dam's removal.
The helicopter was fitted with a giant seed sifter Wednesday to dump about 900 pounds of native grass seed along about 6 acres of land that had been under water backed up by the Gold Ray Dam for 106 years.
The seeds are expected to sprout and provide stability to the riverside slopes susceptible to erosion during high-water events this winter.
And long-term, they will not only fortify the riparian streamside but also leave no room for unwanted non-native plants such as starthistle and blackberries that choke out desired plants.
"We need to get some natural vegetation there and try to beat the invasive species, like blackberries, to it," said Scott Wright, whose River Design Group is overseeing the $5.6 million dam-removal and restoration effort there.
The seed mix includes a sterilized, short-lived perennial rye grass that is expected to sprout quickly and remain for a year or two before dying off, said Craig Tuss, who is managing the restoration project for the Rogue Valley Council of Governments.
That will give the remaining seeds — red fescue and California brome — a chance to take hold for the long run, Tuss said.
The red fescue is a long-lived, cool-season perennial with deep roots that makes excellent soil stabilizers, Tuss said. The California brome is abundant in Western Oregon's meadows and wooded areas.
"The growth should be within 10 days of rain," Tuss said. "Keep your fingers crossed."
Tuss' fingers could be uncrossed as soon as this evening. The National Weather Service has forecast a storm front to move in as early as tonight, with rain likely through the weekend and into early next week.
The seeding originally was scheduled two weeks earlier, but it was moved back in hopes of getting the seeding better timed with the rain needed to jump-start the growth, Tuss said.
The seeding cloaked the baked mud that used to be the bottoms of Kelly and Tolo sloughs created by the dam in 1904 but drained in August as part of the dam's demolition.
Kelly Slough also contains strategically placed rocks and logs to stabilize its banks and create fish habitat in higher waters.
The former powerhouse area along the river's north side was filled with dirt and graded before seeding, Wright said.
This was the same seed mix applied to the stream banks around the former Savage Rapids Dam site after its removal last fall from the Rogue 19 river miles downstream of the old Gold Ray Dam site, Wright said.
The RVCOG has contracted with Jackson County, the former dam's owner, as part of the effort to rid the Rogue of one of Oregon's worst salmon impediments and open 157 miles of free-flowing river from Lost Creek dam to the sea.
A $5 million federal stimulus grant has bankrolled the majority of the project.
The remainder will be financed by the Oregon Watershed Enhancement Board, which has promised up to $1 million.
County officials in May chose removing Gold Ray Dam as its best and least expensive option for the dam's fate. Had the county not removed the dam, it faced financial liability for improving the dam's antiquated fish ladder that did not meet federal standards.
Reach reporter Mark Freeman at 541-776-4470, or e-mail at email@example.com.