By ROB W. ANDERSON
A two-day riparian vegetation workshop began Tuesday at the Tahlequah Municipal Armory Center, focusing on plant selection and proper planting techniques as part of the Illinois River Stream Bank Stabilization Project.
The $2 million, nine-month project covered 12 sites in Cherokee and Adair counties that were selected for restoration due to extreme erosion. Sites like Felts Park, Kaufman Park, the Tahlequah History Trail, Todd Public Access and the Illinois River Ranch benefited from state-of-the-art environmental engineering techniques designed to restore and stabilize areas where land deterioration occurred.
Agencies involved with the project, which was funded through federal stimulus monies, include the Oklahoma Conservation Commission, Oklahoma State University, North State Environmental, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and the Oklahoma Department of Environmental Quality.
Stream banks were rebuilt, and areas where vegetation could be planted were established to improve the natural ecosystem and promote the flourishment of fish and other wildlife.
Temporary coconut fiber matting was laid to prevent soil loss and prepare for the planting of shrubs and trees, said Project Lead Engineer Greg Jennings of Jennings Environmental.
“We were in some areas that were really devastated, in terms of vegetation. [A] very limited [number of] plants were there, very few trees and also lots of invasive plants,” he said. “And so this aspect of the project, the overall Illinois River Watershed Project that was started last year, this aspect of planting is critical for success.”
Jennings noted the project will include follow-up repair and continued habitat evaluation. Some small repairs, or boulder placement, occurred Tuesday at the Kaufman Park site, while the job of planting 10,000-plus trees and shrubs began.
“That sounds like a lot, but every one of those [trees and shrubs] is critical for long-term stability. I expect a year from now we’ll come back and do an inspection, and we’ll find a few critical areas that will need some replanting,” said Jennings. “That’s just the reality of these kind of river restoration projects. They’re kind of a never-ending baby-sitting job, but that’s exciting. That’s what we do when we try to return the ecosystem to a healthier state. It takes a long-term investment of time and energy, and it’s going to be exciting to keep a watch over time.”
The two-day workshop featured morning presentations by Jennings, who provided an overview of the project. Cheryl Cheadle, with the OCC Blue Thumb Program, spoke about the makeup of good and bad streams; Eve Brantley, with Auburn University, discussed stream and floodplain vegetation.
John Mustain, of the Oklahoma Natural Resources Conservation Service, talked about tree planting, while Pat Gwin, of the Cherokee Nation, described plants that are culturally significant to the tribe.
Workshop participants spent Tuesday afternoon at nearby sites, planting trees and shrubs, while today’s schedule calls for work at the Illinois River Ranch.
Cheadle said Tuesday’s presentation offered a way to talk about some of the mistakes landowners make with streams or rivers that run through their property. It also helped point out to participants that there’s a way to let streams and rivers maintain their natural character, not necessarily in keeping with the Clean Water Act.
As an example, a member of the audience reported negative effects created by a landowner upstream who completely removed vegetation from the banks of the stream flowing through the property.
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