Schools Update: Rural Sustainability Program

Vernonia students work at the wetlands during a rent "Sustainability Day."

Vernonia students work at the wetlands during a rent “Sustainability Day.”

The Vernonia Rural Sustainability Program has been very active this school year, with each and every kindergarten through 12th grade student participating in some way. The program, supported by local timber companies, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), the US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW), and the Upper Nehalem Watershed Council (UNWC) has completed native landscaping projects, wetland and riparian zone restoration, salmon restoration activities and trail building preparation throughout the 2012-13 school year.

Vernonia School District teachers spent two days prior to the start of the school year planning and developing these projects based on natural resources, sustainability and science curriculum. This work was supported by a grant from the Gray Family Fund of the Oregon Community Foundation, and has translated into three separate, district-wide “Sustainability Days” where students are putting their classroom learning into action.

The first Sustainability Day, held on November 5, 2012, focused on maintaining and developing our native plant gardens on the new school campus. Students removed invasive Himalayan Blackberry and Scotch Broom, while planting several different species of native bushes and trees. These native gardens will not only attract wildlife to our campus, but will also serve as seed collection sites for propagating new native plant material to be used by students, the Upper Nehalem Watershed Council and our Bureau of Land Management partners. In addition to the plantings, students removed other invasive weeds from the gardens, took nature walks to listen and look for signs of wildlife (of which there were many) and began engineering a walking trail that will circumnavigate the new campus.

The second Sustainability Day was held on March 13, and focused on developing the new wetland area, between Vernonia Lake and the lagoons. On this day, VHS Forestry students each selected a section of the wetlands and developed plans for removal of invasive species, and overplanting of native species that will thrive in this wetland environment. Once planned, these students then led groups of elementary, middle and high school students in implementing their plan. The Forestry students did a great job of planning out their section, and sharing with their student groups the importance of their work to the health of the new wetland. If you get a chance, stop by the wetlands and take a walk and enjoy the newly planted native pines, cedars, firs, willows and other native wetland plants.

In addition to the new plantings, a trail system is also being developed that will lead you around the entire wetland, and connect with the Vernonia Lake trail as well. Student groups are also working on developing informational signage so people can learn about the ecosystem and the history of the wetland area, and have a contest underway to provide our new wetlands area with an “official” name.

While the entire school has focused on these Sustainability Days, several classrooms are working on their own individual Sustainability projects. Kindergarten and fourth grade students held their 3rd Annual Salmon Watch on a section of Rock Creek, learning about all aspects of salmon, and observing them as they build redds and spawn. Several Middle School students have spent some of their Wednesday afternoons volunteering to help continue our invasive species removal and native plantings on campus, and are also developing production gardens that will beautify our campus, and provide food for our cafeteria and local food bank.

If you are interested in hearing more about these programs, have building experience and would like to help install a greenhouse on campus, or want to volunteer your time, wisdom or resources to help our students, please contact Aaron Miller at 503-429-1333.