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Blackberry removal enhances Phoenix park, Bear Creek

Removal of invasive blackberries along a half-mile stretch of Bear Creek in Phoenix’s Blue Heron Park has opened up the park’s space and will lead to enhanced water quality in the creek.

Under the direction of Rogue Valley Watershed Council, a contractor finished blackberry removal earlier this month, the first step in a multiyear effort by the council, Rogue Valley Sewer Services and the city of Phoenix to enhance the park and creek. Bear Creek Greenway runs through part of the cleared area.

“It’s expanded the usable areas in the park. We got trail access to the water. Before that it was just impossible,” said interim City Manager Eric Swanson. “It’s kind of nice to see it wide open with easy access.”

“There were a ton of blackberries,” said John Speece, project manager with the council. Blackberry plants towered over people’s heads, made it impossible for visitors to explore areas and had prevented RVSS from determining whether a detention facility could be installed to treat stormwater runoff.

Improvement of the area was ranked as the second-highest priority project for the watershed council in a Bear Creek restoration initiative developed in 2019. The city had approached the council in 2018 about helping develop the park after creation of a parks master plan in 2016. One small area north of the main park entrance off Highway 99 has been improved, while the rest of the work runs southeast along the creek with Bear Creek Greenway bisecting it.

Cost for the entire effort will be $125,000. The city and RVSS has contributed toward the project, and the watershed council secured grants from the Reser Family Foundation, Schwemm Foundation, Oregon Watershed Enhancement Board and Oregon Community Foundation.

Plant Oregon was chosen to do the blackberry removal and will do planting of native vegetation along the stream bank. The company will do follow-up work in the coming years to handle return of blackberries, but the ultimate plan is for city of Phoenix workers to maintain the area, said Speece.

“We’ll do riparian planting to establish a forest of native trees and shrubs to provide shade for the stream. Trout and salmon need shaded, cool water to survive,” said Speece. The council has consulted with Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife on the project.

Besides blackberry removal and plantings, the project will include environmental education and community outreach components, although what those will look like is still being determined in view of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“All the work that is being done across the Greenway is increasing public safety,” said Speece. “That’s about removing the blackberries.”

The undertaking will help achieve water quality objectives by cooling the stream and getting rid of pollutants, but it is also creating partnerships with the different agencies and community involvement, said Speece. He expects it to serve as a model for other projects.

RVSS was particularly interested in getting the area north of the entrance cleared so it can determine whether a stormwater retention facility can be installed where the city’s storm drain system discharges. RVSS has an agreement with the city to improve stormwater quality before it enters Bear Creek and has collaborated on several other projects.

“Our overall goal is to implement the treatment of the stormwater runoff. It currently flows into without treatment,” said Jennie Morgan, stormwater program manager with RVSS. The agency aims to capture and treat runoff where it can so it’s as clean as it can be.

An initial look at the site suggested such a plan may be feasible, but detailed studies are being conducted.

“We are pretty sure we are going to be able to do something. We are looking to find what is best, most efficient, most effective,” said Morgan. The agency will also look at installing interpretive signs and a nature trail.

A detention facility, if feasible, may be similar on one recently completed by the city near the new Community Center. City workers completed putting plants into a bioswale there last week. The project was a collaboration with RVSS, which also paid for part of the permeable material used in an adjacent parking lot. The bioswale provides treatment of stormwater runoff before it flows into Bear Creek.

Phoenix has set aside $10,000 for water quality projects in its budget for fiscal year 2020-21. Blue Heron Park already has community gardens, parking, a gazebo and the Greenway. There are plans for more parking and other upgrades.

“Blue Heron is a gem. It’s kind of nice to see it wide open with easy access,” said Swanson.

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

file photoA couple{ } rides their bikes through Blue Heron Park in Phoenix Sunday morning.