Frisco students restoring the land | SummitDaily.com

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Frisco students restoring the land

Summit Daily/Bob Berwyn

SUMMIT COUNTY ” Out in the middle of a sun-baked field near the County Commons, a group of Frisco third graders is helping to restore a forest that has been under the gun.

Mountain pine beetles hit the 10-acre Fiester Preserve a few years ago, and they hit it hard. What was once a cool, shady stand of lodgepole pines now looks a little like a bare-earth construction site. A few piles of wood chips is all that’s left of the once-dense grove of evergreens.

But when third-grader Steven Nixon put his pickax to work Thursday, he dug down into a rich brown layer of wet soil, then stood by as classmate Josette Gurley gently plopped a tiny seedling into the hole and carefully piled up an earth berm to hold water near the base of the plant.

“We’ve been studying plants and nature at school and we decided it would be good thing,” said Priya Subberwal. “It’ll help the forest get healthy again.”

Altogether, the students planted about 200 trees and shrubs. Volunteers from the Continental Divide Land Trust also helped with the project. The land trust holds a conservation easement on the Fiester parcel, which protects the land from development.

“We’re diversifying the forest,” said Claudia Wiley, a Summit County open space expert who was helping the youngsters pick the best spots for their baby plants.

The open space department manages thousands of acres that have been affected by pine beetles to some degree, and along with removing dead trees, the department has started to lead the way in reforestation efforts. Last year, the department worked with the Frisco school to plant willows and aspens on a reclaimed open space property along the Swan River.

Wiley said the plants going into the ground at the Fiester Preserve included Englemann Spruce, Colorado Blue Spruce, wax, currant, Wood’s Rose and Siberian pea shrubs.

Mixing together different types of trees and plants provides habitat for more small mammals and birds, and makes the forest less susceptible to devastation from insects or disease.

“The beetles killed the trees, so we’re planting some more and hoping the beetles won’t destroy them,” said Rayven Nicholas. “It’s important to plant trees so we can have oxygen. The trees are important for animals, too. That’s where the birds and the squirrels like to live,” she added.

“You shouldn’t over-water them when you first plant them, because the roots could drink too much and they’re most likely to die,” said Max Johnson. “We need to plant them so the environment can be healthy and so we can breathe better,” he said.

Bob Berwyn can be reached at (970) 331-5996, or at bberwyn@summitdaily.com.