Story and photos by Grayson Berry

As some of the final flurries of the season fell into the Colestine Valley, a group of local high school students toiled tirelessly Wednesday, planting Ponderosa pines along Cottonwood Creek.

For 10 years the Wilderness Charter School has collaborated with the Lomakatsi Restoration Project to repair Rogue Valley ecosystems and raise funds for both programs through what has been dubbed the Plant-a-thon.

Students at the school have been tabling in front of local markets for weeks, soliciting funds from community members who are able to make small donations or pledges per tree planted. The goal is to plant 500 trees this year.

"It's a great experience for students, to learn what it means to create and manage a project like this," said James Haim, one of three teachers at the charter school.

"The tabling itself is a really good experience &

being able to face somebody directly who they don't know, tell them what they're about in order to get them to support something; that is basically a win-win for the students and the community."

The Wilderness Charter School is a one-year program for juniors and seniors at Ashland High that is the equivalent to taking a science or English course, or two elective credits. Its main focus is on sustainability but, according to Haim, the coursework goes well beyond environmental science.

"Sustainability includes not only how to live on the Earth through ecological forestry, permaculture or natural building, but it's also looking at sustainable community, developing community and looking at some of the social skills it takes to have good communication."

Future perspective

Marko Bey, co-founder and director of operations for the Lomakatsi Project, works with thousands of students in Jackson County and Josephine County through Lomakatsi's Full Circle Schools Restoration Ecology Program. Bey takes a long view when considering the work the project does, a view that intrinsically involves members of the next generation.

"Ecological restoration is a long-term process," he said, "It's not something you can accomplish with one activity. We've been working at Cottonwood Creek, for example, for almost nine years. It's a lot of work to do over time and we need people of different generations to help keep this work going. We live in a natural resource state but a lot of that has gone away, so we try to involve people in that natural resource work, hoping that some will take the work on as a career in the future, but also that they will begin to improve the conditions of the areas where they live."

The Plant-a-thon featured several Charter School alumni, one of whom had gone to work as an employee for Lomakatsi. The work done helped to make the riparian zone (the interface between the land and the creek) more robust by planting long-term trees, the roots of which would support the soil and branches would eventually shade the creek, keeping the water hospitable for fish.

According to Bey, high water temperatures contributed to the Klamath water crisis a few years ago which resulted in the death of 60,000 salmon in the Lower Klamath River near Happy Camp. Cottonwood Creek is one of many tributaries in the Klamath River system.

Bey strives to keep spirits high and make the work both fun and meaningful. While instructing the students on the basics of tree planting he told them, "This is like graffiti, but it's ecological graffiti on the land that will be here long after you are."

— — Student Kyle Kohlmann plants a Ponderosa pine along Cottonwood Creek on Wednesday.

Grayson Berry can be reached at graysonberry@gmail.com