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Home arrow News arrow Local News arrow A little more like it used to be

A little more like it used to be

The grounds at the Oregon Trail Interpretive Center are being planted with native grass and flowers with the help of Alternative School students Bobby Crawford, near left, Krystal Knapp, Nathan Dalton, far left, David Aguirre and Hunter McCormack (not pictured). (Baker City Herald photograph by S. John Collins).
The grounds at the Oregon Trail Interpretive Center are being planted with native grass and flowers with the help of Alternative School students Bobby Crawford, near left, Krystal Knapp, Nathan Dalton, far left, David Aguirre and Hunter McCormack (not pictured). (Baker City Herald photograph by S. John Collins).

By MIKE FERGUSON

Of the Baker City Herald

A replanting program underway at the National Historic Oregon Interpretive Center combines two key elements: strong young backs and expertise from a local botanist.

The youthful exuberance comes courtesy of students from the Baker Alternative School, who were bused up the hill twice this week to plant flowers they'd grown in their greenhouse this past year.

And the know-how behind the students' work — identifying grass and flower seeds native to the area, even developing a business plan to commercially market their seeds — came from Bureau of Land Management botanist Clair Button.

As visitors to the Center will readily notice, Button's guidance and the students' willingness are a winning combination.

"(Students) are taking out all the non-native stuff and putting in native species to compete with the weeds and the cheatgrass," said Button. "They're working with the (BLM's) vegetation management plan, so not only are they getting rid of noxious weeds and non-native plants, they're reducing the fire hazard in a high-use area."

For the time being, said Priscila Franco, NHOTIC's project manager, the students are concentrating their work near the pathway leading from the parking lot to the Center. Adjacent areas will be planted after BLM forestry crews can thin the area of sagebrush, which also reduces the fire potential.

In exchange for Franco's oversight of the project, the students get $1,500 from NHOTIC to purchase seeds and supplies. But Franco figures it's money well spent, since students are expected to put in about 800 volunteer hours by the time the planting is done.

"It's a lot of fun to see the people (coming to the Center) and socialize," said Krystal Knapp, one of the young crewmembers busy planting Wednesday morning. "People ask us what we're planting, and for the most part they think it's a good idea that we're out here. It's a plus to get hands-on experience and credit for working."

Janie Radinovich, who was supervising the students Wednesday for the Oregon Youth Conservation Crew, said that students who stay with the program and earn good grades can build a scholarship fund for further training. Three months of hard work and good grades is good for $375 for scholarships, and $125 for each additional month.

Last year, she said, OYCC awarded more than $1,000 in scholarships.

In all, she said, about 1,500 individual plants and grasses — including species of penstemon, rayless fleabane, Idaho fescue and Idaho bluegrass — will be planted by students.

But not without the occasional incentive.

"I've been known to buy them doughnuts from time to time," Radinovich said, smiling.

In addition to the work ethic, Button hopes that the students are picking up skills that could help them establish a small business. He's teaching students to germinate native seeds and grow wildflowers that require small amounts of both water and maintenance.

The purchasers of such seeds and plants, he said, would include the BLM and U.S. Forest Service, as well as ranchers trying to enhance their riparian areas under the requirements of Senate Bill 1010, Oregon's answer to the Clean Water Act.

"They're just like any other kid," Button said of his crew. "You have to show them step by step, and encourage the quality control aspect. It's a learning process for both of us. They have been excited about the project, and they're worked hard every time I've been with them."

 
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