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home : education : schools August 28, 2014

4/23/2013 12:31:00 PM
Students are stewards of Whychus Creek
Haley Zadow, SHS IEE student, creating her impressions of her Whychus experience last Thursday. photo by Jim Anderson
+ click to enlarge
Haley Zadow, SHS IEE student, creating her impressions of her Whychus experience last Thursday. photo by Jim Anderson

Keenan O’Hearn leaps into the frigid waters of Whychus Creek. photo by Samra Spear
+ click to enlarge
Keenan O’Hearn leaps into the frigid waters of Whychus Creek. photo by Samra Spear

By Jim Anderson

Twenty Sisters High School juniors, along with teacher Samra Spear, joined Kolleen Yake, Kelly Beck, and Hayley McClure from the Upper Deschutes Watershed Council (UDWC) last Thursday for the Whychus Creek Student Stewardship Project.

Community surveys and public comments previously collected by the Upper Deschutes Watershed Council and Sisters Ranger District revealed a lack of information and understanding amongst local students and community members regarding stream health and instream habitat needs.

Not any longer, thanks to the efforts of the teamwork of UDWC, and the Interdisciplinary Environmental Education (IEE) program at SHS.

By implementing conservation and education programs through the Whychus Creek Student Stewardship Project, the watershed council has taken a proactive role in assuring that habitat protection is a priority among the growing population of visitors using Whychus Creek, and is protected as a treasured landscape, for generations to come.

Students sat on the cool sand near the creek's edge and shared their thoughts and artistic talents with Kolleen Yake, education director of UDWC, as they explored the subjects of irrigation, fisheries, wildlife and native plants.

Several of the students were in on previous weed-pulling and tree-planting projects and had good feelings for what they could see of new growth of native plant diversity, where there had once been nothing but invasive weeds.

But Mother Nature threw them a curveball regarding some of the young trees, many of which didn't make it. However, the students were looking forward to coming back and planting a new batch of seedlings.

All the restoration and enhancement projects came to life in the students' minds and hearts as they gathered in two groups; one to speak of their appreciation of the creek in art and the other in poetry and song.

Yake and McClure led one group upstream from the gathering spot where they sat on the warm hillside enjoying the murmuring creek and magnificent open sky with slowly soaring clouds. Kelly Beck took her students close to the creek, where they could sense the rushing water and the beauty of the riparian as they sketched the diversity of life around them.

At one point, Yake asked the students to watch the clouds drifting by for three minutes, then, with the creek and the ecosystem of their surroundings in mind, blend it all into song, poem or other artistic expressions. "There's a story there of earth, water and sky," she said, looking at each student intently. The results were outstanding as the students shared their thoughts and impressions, producing original poems and song.

Devon Cash, a junior, made sketches of clouds and sunlight on art paper, and up in one corner wrote:

A hole in the sky opens

Blue peeling through the white

An eye on the blank face

Drifting back and forth - forth and back

All seeing, but seeing nothing

Then, spontaneously, Keenan O'Hearn and Ben Pope leaped to their feet and exploded with the glee only high school juniors can generate, shouting, "Let's go swimming!" With Savannah Spear right behind, they dashed upstream to the "perfect rock" for Keenan and Ben to launch themselves into the 45-degree waters of Whychus Creek.

Spear grabbed up a camera, and with the same enthusiasm, leaped out on the rock to snap photos of Keenan and Ben when they had the (dubious) pleasure and pain of smacking into the frigid water.

That set the stage for spontaneous expressions of joy among all the Whychus Creek Student Stewardship Project students - the pleasures of being on the creek, out of school in the beauty of Sisters Country, and the pure joy of being alive to learn.

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