Frisco Elementary kids help the Earth be green
SUMMIT COUNTY ” Working on a patch of bare ground near Muggins Gulch in the Swan River drainage, Frisco’s third-grade elementary school class is reclaiming mine-scarred land, sapling by sapling.
“It’s to help the Earth be green,” says Mady Wilkerson, trying to shake some mud from the tips of her gloves and ending up with a blob of it on her nose. Mady is building a berm around a two-foot aspen sapling, while classmate Carly Hough adds some water-retaining polymer with the soil.
Carly has named her tree. She puts the Annie Oakley name tag on the slender chute, so she can come and check on how the tree is doing. The sun is shining, and, for a change, it’s OK to get your hands dirty ” really dirty.
“I like being outside,” says Lexi Wintston. “I like planting trees. I did it at my grandmother’s house.”
Along with aspens, some students are planting other native plants, including peachleaf willows, wood rose and red osier dogwood. Other are spreading wildflower and grass seed to restore a stretch of land that was turned inside-out by dredges working the river for gold. When the boats finished their quest, they left behind piles of bare rock up to 60-feet deep.
“Nothing could grow here before,” said Summit County open space and trails director Brian Lorch, describing the bare piles of rock that are a common site along the Swan and Blue rivers.
The school project is one phase of an ambitious restoration effort on an 11-acre chunk of county owned open space along the Swan River. Last year, the dredged rocks on the property were covered by about six inches of soil and graded to create rolling hills and small dimples. The higher areas will drier, while the low spots will collect and hold water a bit longer, creating more habitat diversity, Lorch explained.
The grading brought the riverbank land down closer to the level of the river.
“That will let the river move if it wants to,” Lorch said, explaining that a natural riparian ecosystem includes ever-changing meanders in the stream’s course.
The dirt came from a nearby development in Muggins Gulch. Selling the rock from the site for construction purposes paid for the project, Lorch said.
Trout populations thrived after a similar project at the Four Mile Bridge open space was completed successfully a couple of years ago.
“This is such a great opportunity to get kids out here and exercise stewardship and a love of the land, so they’ll continue to protect it,” Lorch said.
Before taking kids out into the field, local open space experts visited the classroom to explain the purpose and outline the project. That helped get the kids focused on the restoration effort, said open space technician Claudia Wiley.
The third-graders are psyched about the afternoon outside, and everyone pitches in to get the job done. The open space department has purchased about 1,000 seedlings, but the Frisco youngsters won’t plant all of those. Another volunteer session is set for Saturday at the same spot, since it will take more than one work day to cover 11 acres.
All the plants used for the restoration are native varieties that grow in similar patches of habitat nearby. Wiley said about 85 percent of the saplings survived their first year at the Four Mile Bridge project.
Bob Berwyn can be reached at (970) 331-5996, or at email@example.com.
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