ASHLAND — With a Ponderosa pine seedling dangling from his hand, Tosh Evans stood over a hole in the ground and waxed on about what it's like to plant his first tree — one he helped grow.

ASHLAND — With a Ponderosa pine seedling dangling from his hand, Tosh Evans stood over a hole in the ground and waxed on about what it's like to plant his first tree — one he helped grow.

"This is epic," said Evans, 16, an Ashland High School sophomore.

Evans and pal Camron Abbott then set roots to dirt along the banks of Ashland's Wrights Creek, helping jump-start the once-ravaged creekside habitat toward becoming a salmon-friendly stream again.

Then they moved to the next hole, armed with another school-grown pine meant to do right by Wrights Creek.

"It's like doing a makeup for mother Earth," Evans said. "We keep shooting her in the face. Maybe it's time to help her out a little bit."

Evans' time came Thursday, when he and a dozen fellow Ashland High students helped restore the banks of this Bear Creek tributary during a weeklong effort to reclaim damaged streams for wild salmon.

Hundreds of kids are planting thousands of native trees and shrubs along vast stretches of salmon habitat in and around Ashland as part of a restoration and education project that's three years in the making.

Students at five area schools have planted and coddled seedlings and shrubs for the past three years at little school nurseries, culminating with the plantings that began Monday and run through Saturday.

"These plants are busting out of their pots and really need to get in the ground," said Marko Bey, director of the Lomakatsi Restoration Project, which is running the so-called Full Circle Schools Restoration Ecology Program.

Lomakatsi crews earlier this year carved through 15-foot-tall non-native blackberries around Wrights Creek, which empties into Bear Creek near Ashland's north end.

The cut brambles were stacked and burned, leaving the exposed creek to meander through farmland.

With a sprinkling of rain softening the soil, the stretch was primed for Thursday's infusion of dozens of native trees and creek-friendly shrubs.

"The students get to do the fun part," Bey said.

It sure beats math class.

"It's cool to help out the environment, help out the fish," Abbott said.

And Wrights Creek sure could use it.

The ribbon of water has been shrouded in blackberries for years. Wild steelhead venturing upstream in winter knock heads against a large culvert even before they reach Highway 99.

"You can see the condition Wrights Creek is in," Bey said. "It hasn't been taken care of for a long time."

Other projects through the city of Ashland and local watershed councils are fixing the culvert and fencing off lower stretches of Wrights Creek to keep out cattle, Bey said.

But none of that would matter without a strong riparian zone.

"Forest for fish is the motto we're using," Bey said.

Reclaiming the riparian zone with native vegetation will create shade that will help cool the creek waters in summer. The roots will help stabilize the banks during periods of winter runoff.

Over time, Wrights Creek could flow well enough for even wild fall chinook salmon to call it home, Bey said.

"Who knows what its potential is for the future?" Bey said.

The potential enormity of it all was not lost on Danika Nutter, a 16-year-old junior and veteran of past Lomakatsi restoration work.

Digging a hole where blackberries once ruled, Nutter carefully cut through the dirt until her hole feathered deep enough to accept the pine's long root wad.

"Out here you get to have a small impact on a small part of the world, affecting something bigger than yourself," Nutter said. "Your children's children should be able to see these trees."

Reach reporter Mark Freeman at 776-4470, or e-mail mfreeman@mailtribune.com.