Suscol Creek Restoration Project Taps Local Students

December  03, 2012

 On two November days this fall, a busload of third and fourth graders from Vista 360o Elementary School arrived at Napa Sanitation District’s Somky Ranch. Their objective? To install native plants along the banks of Suscol Creek, as part of a restoration project spearheaded by the Napa Sanitation District.

Napa Sanitation District isn’t normally in the creek restoration business. But the District owns two ranch properties that are used for distribution of recycled water and biosolids, both bi-products of wastewater treatment process. Suscol Creek flows through one of these properties, the former Somky Ranch, which sprawls along the Napa River south of Highway 29.

Suscol Creek is also home to steelhead trout and provides important habitat for this threatened species. The reach of Suscol Creek running through Somky Ranch was overgrown with Himalayan Blackberry, an invasive non-native plant that chokes out native vegetation and limits access to the creek for both humans and wildlife.

“This project will improve about a quarter mile of Suscol Creek,” says restoration project manager Darcy Aston, NSD Outreach Coordinator. “The District is joining with other property owners along the creek to be better stewards.”

During the spring, a landscaping crew removed the abundant and tenacious blackberry vines from the creek banks. Native trees were carefully cut free of their thorny cloak, and trash was pulled from the creek bed. Once the blackberry vines had been beaten into submission, an important step remained: restoring the native plants that provide food and shelter for wildlife, as well as protecting creek banks from high water flows.

This is where the students from Vista 360o, an environmental sciences magnet school, came into the picture. “Our program is based on hands-on, experiential learning,” affirms Steve Konakis, Lead Teacher at Vista 360o. “This type of project gets our students out there in the community, learning about watersheds and how we can get involved in making things better.”

Students were out at the site last fall too, installing plants in the first phase of restoration. This fall, teams of students dug in the soft earth to create holes for the new plants. Oaks, buckeyes and elderberry trees went into the ground, along with native shrubs like snowberry and coyote brush.

Other teams removed protective tubes from plants that were installed last year, some already as tall as the students. Meanwhile, another group played a version of steal the flag, but with native plants instead. “The kids are having so much fun with the game, but they remember the plant names too,” points out Stephanie Turnipseed, education coordinator with the Napa County Resource Conservation District.

After four hours, tired students piled back on the bus. Many native plants were now in the ground, and the Suscol Creek restoration project was well underway. Would they do it again? “We want to come back – this is the most fun field trip we’ve ever had!” pronounced one student. Lucky for the students at Vista 360o, the school and the District are planning follow up trips where students will monitor the success of the restoration effort.

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