University students, veterans, teenagers, fly-fishing enthusiasts, and neighbors gathered on a recent spring morning at the confluence of Rock Creek and the Clark Fork River, 20 miles east of Missoula, Montana. Wielding pickaxes and watering buckets, they came to spend their Sunday with Five Valleys Land Trust on an ambitious project: planting 300 shrubs around a brand-new wetland.
From red-osier dogwood and mock orange to Bebb’s willow and Douglas’s hawthorn, the shrubs we would plant represented 17 native species, each plant grown from hand-collected seed in the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribal greenhouses in the Mission Valley. We were, in a sense, bringing these species home—Rock Creek is an integral part of the homeland of the Salish and Pend d’Oreille people, who know this stream by its ancient name Np̓né(tk͏ʷ) meaning “Logs in the Water.” Not long ago, this land at the mouth of Rock Creek was slated for a 36-home subdivision. With help from a broad group of public and private partners, Five Valleys Land Trust purchased the 300-acre Rock Creek Confluence Property in 2012 and set to work restoring the land and establishing public access to miles of river and adjoining National Forest.
A significant restoration challenge on the property—reclamation of an eight-acre developed pond— has opened the door to new partnerships and opportunities for collaboration. Students in the Heavy Equipment Operation Program at Missoula College are learning to operate bulldozers and graders while transforming the artificial pond into a shallow, groundwater-fed wetland. University of Montana Ecosystem Science and Restoration students are bringing their classroom training to life by developing a revegetation plan for the site, and visiting school children are learning first-hand about ecological restoration and riparian ecology. While the ecological benefits of restoration at the Confluence Property will materialize slowly over time, the benefits to the community are immediate and tangible. For Five Valleys Land Trust, this is community conservation in action.
By early afternoon, all 300 shrubs and trees were in the ground, each one meticulously watered and mulched. The little seedlings were hard to spot against the backdrop of bare rock and soil, but the bright flags marking each one created a colorful tapestry, illustrating the progress we’d made together in just one day.
Written by Jenny Tollefson, Five Valleys Stewardship Manager, for the Land Trust Alliance blog.
Photos courtesy of Kurt Wilson and the Missoulian.