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Reseeding the Greenway: Phoenix High athletes among volunteers to help with recovery

In mid-October, a helicopter passed along the Bear Creek Greenway, dropping seeds to replant the blackened landscape. During the last two weekends of the month, more than 100 volunteers turned out to protect the seeds and encourage strong germination rates by spreading straw over the top and hand-seeding areas unreachable by air.

About 30 members of the Phoenix High School cross-country team and some parents participated in the volunteer effort, coordinated by Jackson County. Head Coach John Cornet said team families were quick to show interest in getting involved.

About 30% of the team lost homes in the Almeda fire — many of who came to contribute their time near Blue Heron Park in Phoenix, where volunteer groups focused their work on Saturday.

Senior Noah Marshall, 17, said he is eager to assist with recovery efforts. He did not sustain a direct home loss but feels the impact among his neighbors and teammates. The Almeda fire encroached within four houses of his own, he said. As a volunteer, Marshall also learned about soil erosion, water quality and habitat restoration.

“I have been very proud to have been able to help with this,” Marshall said. “The Greenway is something we run on and so being able to help keep it from eroding away means a lot.”

The intrinsic value of the project was enough; student-athletes received no extra incentive to do the work, Cornet said. The team trains along the Greenway about once a week during the season and recognizes that others in the region benefit from using the space as well. From a coach’s perspective, this work is important for his athletes as an active way of giving back and helping the community to heal.

“It also helps us heal emotionally, to be honest,” Cornet said. “It is important for them to know that they can create a small ripple of change, which can have a longterm, positive effect on others.”

John Speece, project manager for the Rogue River Watershed Council, served as a natural resource leader for volunteer work sessions on the Greenway in October. Jackson County officials provided the seed and straw used for the project but solicited help from natural resource experts to guide volunteers in the field. Speece manages a restoration project at Blue Heron Park in partnership with the city of Phoenix, which began prior to the Almeda fire.

Ongoing natural resource conservation and restoration projects in Talent and Phoenix serve as “anchor points” for work along Bear Creek, adding to the county’s reseeding application and supplemented by volunteerism, Speece said.

After the Almeda fire burned three-quarters of the corridor’s vegetation, RRWC and other stakeholders came forward with water quality concerns. Headed into winter, restoration goals are centered around inputting best management practices to mitigate forecasted erosion, Speece said.

While the 2019 Bear Creek Restoration Initiative spurred conversations about necessary projects, state and federal resources are now contributing to erosion control measures identified as critical through partner organization surveys, Speece said. Volunteers effectively fill the gaps between nonprofit and agency resources.

Despite the need for rain, those with knowledge of soil erosion and water quality are grateful for a delay in seasonal precipitation, so soil stabilization tactics can be put in place first, he said.

As someone who visits the Greenway multiple times per week, Speece has been consistently surprised by what natural regeneration has already begun. Native species such as wild rose, cottonwood, willow, dogwood and Pacific ninebark are sprouting on their own.

Unfortunately, so are the blackberries. A secondary effort is underway to treat blackberry regrowth and prevent the invasive species from outcompeting native regrowth, Speece said.

Years of blackberry growth mixed with dead biomass served as highly flammable fuel in the recent fire episode. Blackberries do not have the root mass to stabilize soil like native vegetation, Speece said, He further explained they’re bad for water quality.

Still, the plant species that have now been seeded will not be long-term features of the landscape.

“This is an immediate, short-term need, an action that we can do, to help mitigate some of those erosion concerns ... while we develop a long-term vision for the Greenway through community interaction,” Speece said.

Those interested in future volunteer opportunities may contact Jackson County Parks Volunteer Coordinator Brooke Amposta at AmpostBA@JacksonCounty.org.

Contact Ashland Tidings reporter Allayana Darrow at adarrow@rosebudmedia.com or 541-776-4497 and follow her on Twitter @AllayanaD.

Phoenix cross country athletes volunteer Saturday morning to help reseed the greenway area between the bike path and Bear Creek near Blue Heron Park in Phoenix. (Andy Atkinson / Ashland Tidings)