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Talent students map plants by Wagner Creek

Trees and shrubs in Wagner Creek Park are getting a close look from students in the Outdoor School at Talent Middle School. They will investigate 15 plots in teams of two, learn about the flora and later make recommendations on creating a healthy riparian area.

Students were at the site Friday, and teacher Daniel Akita and city planner Zac Moody helped develop more refined versions of maps they had created earlier. The city is collaborating on the yearlong project and may end up using the maps to help inform efforts to improve the stream habitat.

“We are learning about how we can make this place better for water,” said sixth-grader Spencer Carroll from Medford. “We are learning about how we can change the environment here.”

Seventh-grader Valeria Arevalo of Talent was busy creating the map of her plot alone because her partner was absent. She had to pace off locations of nine trees, a couple nearly 3 feet in diameter, from a wood post that was partially buried under tree trimmings. Then she had to tackle documenting shrubs in the plot.

“This is the first time I’ve done the mapping,” said Arevalo. Last week she and other students learned pacing to improve upon the earlier mapping effort.

“We are revising that input until it gets to the quality we desire,” said Akita. Another necessary step will be plant identification.

Improvements to riparian habitat at Wagner Creek Park began in 2014 with collaboration by the city and Friends of Wagner Creek, which started planting trees and shrubs as early as 2015. The park is located next to Rapp Road.

The project is designed to give students experience of what it’s like to be an engineer, a biologist, a mapper or even a small-town planner who works on stream restoration, said Moody.

Students didn’t have a lot of tools to work with, but Moody encouraged them to note on the hand-drawn maps whether trees were deciduous or conifers. He suggested those with cellphones could take pictures of leaves and shrubs for later identification.

Students will create plot sketches, do more refinement and likely get them into a digital format. The city may get the maps into its GIS system, where they could show up on the city website.

A bioswale was created on the west side of the property when a pedestrian bridge over the creek was built on Rapp Road in 2018 beside the vehicle bridge. The bioswale is designed to help funnel storm-water runoff from the road for filtering before it goes into the creek. Rogue Valley Sewer Services assisted with the project, which was finished last year, while the Friends of Wagner Creek also helped.

A student team mapping the bioswale didn’t have any trees to locate, and there were many dozens of blue shrub markers, too many to document. Instead they charted major features in the area such as locations of constructed gravel beds.

“We didn’t ultimately achieve the density we are looking for as far as stream restoration goes,” Moody said of earlier planting efforts. “They’ll be trying to see what the overall density will look like when the trees are at full maturity and the shrubbery also.”

Students had learned about the importance of riparian areas to good water earlier in the school year when Frances Oyung, a stormwater technician with Rogue Valley Sewer Service, gave a presentation.

The Outdoor School, in its first year at Talent Middle School, is a school within a school, a concept also used by its School of Design and Innovation. A mix of students from sixth, seventh and eighth grades comprise the student body. The school is an outgrowth of the Outdoor Discovery Program that operates at Talent Elementary School. It has the same parent advisory committee and works with colleagues from across the street.

“I think it’s really fantastic for the students to have authentic learning, to see how what they do in the classroom relates to something else,” said Akita.

Students spend their afternoons studying outdoor curriculum. Unlike the School of Design and Innovation, which integrates math and language arts into its curriculum, outdoor students study those subjects in regular classes in the morning.

Reach Ashland freelance writer Tony Boom at tboomwriter@gmail.com.

Andy Atkinson / Mail Tribune Talent Middle School students make their way to Wagner Creek Park in Talent.
Talent Middle School students make drawings in Wagner Creek Park.