On Saturday, Land Trusts around Oregon are encouraging people to “Walk the Land”. The idea is to bring people to special natural areas that aren’t always open to the public and highlight the work of conservation groups. For a preview, McKenzie River Trust Executive Director Joe Moll took KLCC’s Rachael McDonald to their largest property, Green Island, north of Eugene on a windy day.
“It’s a nice cool afternoon wind.” Moll says, “I’m hopeful that on Saturday for our walk the land day we’ll get some afternoon breezes as well because it looks like it’s going to be pretty hot.”
McKenzie River Trust has been opening Green Island to the public each year in June for their Living River Celebration for several years. This time will be different. Moll says there won’t be as booths, food vendors, or music.
“It really is a day to emphasize getting out and walking the land.” Moll says, “Taking a hike with a naturalist. Going off and exploring on your own and not just walking on the land or going for a walk but giving people, encouraging people to really step into it and think for a moment and enjoy and experience where they are.”
Moll hopes people will take their shoes off, remember what it felt like to be a kid.
Moll says, “We’re moving so quickly these days that giving people a chance to just come out and experience a place on their own, on their own terms and maybe return to that feeling you had as a kid where nature wasn’t a concept. It was immediate. It was just where you were.”
McKenzie River Trust acquired this former farm, over a thousand acres in 2003. The non-profit has been doing restoration here over the years, working to bring it back to a more natural, wild state. Moll points to what’s called the CARP project, former gravel ponds.
How has this property changed over the years that you’ve been doing restoration?
“You have to pull out the photos to remind yourself how dramatic the changes are.” Says Moll, “This was a bare rock area just 4 years ago. And even post-restoration, when the quote-restoration work was immediately done it looked scarred. It was a very scarred looking landscape. And already, plant growth willows, cottonwoods, maple, wildflowers and native grasses, they’re coming and they’re softening the edges. The river coming up in the winter and dropping in the summer is softening those edges as well and finding new channels and wildlife and birds, fish and wildlife are rediscovering the area. For people that havnt been out here in several years, I think they’ll be stunned at some of those changes. Not only here at the CARP project but in some of the interior forest now where 5 years ago there was grass and with tree plantings, volunteer tree plantings that many people have helped with now it’s amost impenetrable 30 foot tall trees. And its marvelous to be able to see that kind of progression, year after year and season to season.”
Moll says the overall goal of their project at Green Island is to let the Willamette River set its path.
“And year to year we see that happening. “ Moll says, “It changes its channel a little bit. It takes gravel from this side of the river and takes it downstream. It knocks a Cottonwood Tree over and that Cottonwood builds up a gravel bar on top of it. New Cottonwoods grow. And the McKenzie River Trust has owned Green Island since 2003 so we have a little over a decade now to look back and look forward on and already we’re seeing the river recasting things in its own terms. And I think in many ways it’s only just begun. The researchers are finding that indeed the young salmon that are coming downstream and looking for refuge from high water, they’re finding it in places like this. And we’re learning more and more about how these flood plains, healthy flood plains, help attenuate floods, help slow down the power of floods and really benefit areas, how they do bring down soil that beneifts agriculture, how they act as filters and cleaners of our water. And so, both cleaning that water, holding that water. And so, 30 years from now when there are twice as many people in the Willamette Valley, the value of these places is going to astronomical. And we feel really good about that. We feel good that we’ve helped people invest in something that’s going to pay off for future residents and visitors to the valley for decades to come.”
More than 11 land trust are participating in Walk The Land Day Saturday throughout the state.