Central Oregon Exploration and Habitat Restoration

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Service in some remote corners of Oregon

Saturday: McKay Creek Habitat Restoration

Despite the forecast for some true holiday weather, a dedicated and excited group boarded the activity bus early Saturday morning for what surely was to be a true adventure. Taking advantage of the extra space in the bus, we made sure to bring plenty of warm clothing and lots of extra food. Our exploration of the natural wonders of the state started with a ride through the stunning Columbia River Gorge, which became increasingly dry and the hills more rolling as we moved east. Meeting the junction with highway 197, our bus turned south for a weekend in the central part of the state.

As we arrived on a private 1,000-acre property along the McKay Creek in the Ochoco Mountains, we were greeted by Catlin Gabel alumni Jack Lazar and Kendra Klag, who had driven all the way from Walla Walla, Washington, to join us for the weekend. Garry Sanders, his dog, and a few other members of the Crooked River Watershed Council supplied us with coffee and hot chocolate as they taught us about the history of McKay Creek and the damage that has been done to the drainage through diversion for irrigation. While standing on the banks of the creek, we learned about the removal of the irrigation dams and saw the result of the heavy excavation that the Council has done to return the stream bed to a more natural state while maintaining the ability to divert water for irrigation. The group learned about the modern techniques for stabilizing a riparian habitat, as well as the complexities of balancing the economic, social, and environmental concerns with such a project. The creek looked beautiful, but lacked vegetation. That is where we were to come into play! 

Equipped with pickaxes, shovels, polaskis, and clippers, the group began planting native plants along the creek bank. Thanks to our group, multiple species of sedges, willows, cottonwoods, and dogwoods were all given a chance for life in this beautiful corner of the Ochocos. The project wouldn't have been complete without some heavy labor, and the whole group took part in hauling a long, snake-like roll of reeds that had been used to absorb sediment out of the creek. The sun shone on us for most of the afternoon, while the sound of the healthy creek and some light, fragrant smoke from a burning slash pile added to the special setting. We couldn't get over how great it was to be peacefully working outside in such a beautiful place. We wrapped up our work for the day just as the massive autumn moon rose over the tops of the Ochoco Mountains. Thanking Garry and the Council for such a great day, we boarded the bus and headed to our heated yurts in Tumalo State Park.

Sunday: Badlands Wilderness Stewardship

There are few things more beautiful than a light dusting of snow in the high desert, and that is just what the group woke up to as we stepped out of our cozy yurts. Heading to yet another area in Central Oregon, we were joined by Catlin Gabel student Cooper Lazar and David Eddleston, an ex-British army officer who is the director of work projects for the Friends of the Badlands Wilderness (Fobbits). David taught the group about the area's recent designation as a wilderness while also describing the interesting lava formation of the Badlands and the ancient junipers that inhabit it. We were blown away to hear that a core sample of a juniper tree in the area dated the tree over 1,600 years old! 

We soon set off the highway, led by David and his GPS through the desolate and beautiful Badlands. Our work for the day involved digging up old signs, removing nails from old fence posts, and excavating a series of huge posts that had at one time supported old cattle gates. We were all struck by how very different this ecosystem was to the area that we had done our plantings in the day before. We had been working in a riparian area, and now we found ourselves in true Oregon desert! Cryptobiotic organisms covered the ashy soil, while sage, juniper, and bunch grass constituted the vegetation of the region. We found some glass bottles and rusted tin cans from a bygone era. Our work involved over four miles of backcountry hiking between various sites, and again the sun was shining for much of the day.  

By the end of the day, David Eddleston let us know that not only had we become honorary Fobbits due to our considerable contribution, but we were part of the elite group known as "Snow Fobbits," a designation held only for volunteers that have done work in the Badlands in snowy conditions. After saying our goodbyes, the group headed back to our yurts in Tumalo for an incredible afternoon of cards, bananagrams, and mad libs.

Monday: Central Oregon Exploration

Tired and satisfied from a weekend of fulfilling work, the group decided to hike along the shores of the Deschutes River within the state park before settling into the bus for the long ride back to Portland. Another fresh dusting of snow made the tall Ponderosa pines and volcanic rock even more impressive. The group decided that we weren't ready to stop exploring, so halfway through the drive home we pulled over at White River Falls State Park to observe the impressive, three-tiered waterfall and an old, dilapidated power station. Happy to have stretched our legs, we reboarded the bus for our final push back to school.  

We arrived with the satisfaction that we had definitely earned all of the relaxing and eating that we will get to do over the rest of our Thanksgiving break.