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Planting for the Future

Along sliver of Bear Creek Park near downtown Medford could be on its way to becoming a healthy riparian Eden beginning this week, and it will be punctuated with a summer drink and a Tweet.

This 1,700-foot stretch along the west side of Bear Creek off 12th Street will teem with teens Wednesday, the first of many volunteer planters of native trees and shrubs in this latest effort to make Bear Creek and its shorelines more pleasing to salmon, birds and other native fauna.

And this effort comes with a commitment from the nearby Logos Charter School and others to not just jam plants in the ground and walk away. Volunteers say they will pack in water to quench thirsty trees in the summer and fall, while others will pull competing blackberries. Another group will turn on their Blackberries as "social-media mobilizers" to help tell the story of this reclamation project while trolling for donations of time and sweat to make it work.

And it will all take place in full view of northbound Interstate 5 motorists just a stone's throw away.

"This is a big site and a huge undertaking, and we're trying to get the community to adopt this project," says Nan King, a member of the city of Medford's Tree Committee, who is working on the project.

"The kids working on this will be able to show their children's children, 'I planted this tree. I helped make this forest,' " King said.

The first of 2,000 trees and shrubs will be planted Wednesday, followed Nov. 9-10 by more work crews from schools in Medford and Ashland.

The ground was pretreated by a contractor who removed most of the non-native blackberries where tiny Crooked Creek flows under I-5 and into Bear Creek.

The project was funded through a $35,000 grant from the National Audubon Society's TogetherGreen Innovation Grants program, which is funded, in part, by Toyota. The grants focus on innovative ways to solve habitat problems while using new technologies to reach more diverse audiences.

It is organized and managed by the Ashland-based Lomakatsi Restoration Project, with Medford's Tree Committee and the Rogue Valley Audubon Society as partners.

Bear Creek is both the heart and sewer of the five cities that straddle it from Ashland to Central Point. Its many ills include poor dissolved oxygen, turbidity and hot summer water temperatures that tax the wild Rogue salmon and steelhead that use it as a nursery and refuge.

This project is designed to replace non-native blackberries with native vegetation that over time will grow and provide a shady canopy for the creek. Reducing the solar warming of the water can help infant salmon survive and grow in a more fish-friendly environment.

The canopy also could become a haven for the more than 160 different bird species at home in the Bear Creek watershed, according to the National Audubon Society.

But this is not your father's riparian project.

In previous tree-planting and wetland restoration projects, volunteers often have come in and planted trees then walked away, leaving them to struggle for survival in their new and often harsh environment.

"Unless they're watered once they're planted, they tend to fail," King says.

In this project, King is helping assemble teams of students to adopt the project long-term, pledging to undertake tasks such as regular watering so the plants survive.

Other groups will conduct regular monitoring work, including temperature and turbidity ratings in the creek and measuring the growth rates of the plants. Work crews will pick up trash and pull regenerating berry bushes before they can overrun the site.

And others will go a few steps further by filming videos and posting them via social-media tools such as Twitter and Facebook to chronicle the project's success and garner more volunteer and financial support, King says.

It also will serve as a classroom for students and a demonstration to private landowners along the creek of what their land could look like if they got with the program.

And it may help to be viewed by thousands of drivers approaching the I-5 viaduct every day.

"It's kind of a sliver of land, but it's a very visible sliver," says Frances Oyung, coordinator of the Bear Creek Watershed Council, which has fostered several similar projects. "It's a chance for the community to demonstrate its stewardship."

Nan King is heading up a riparian planting project on a neglected sliver of Bear Creek Park in Medford that will combine old-fashioned muscle with new social media tools. - Jamie Lusch