Restoration work continues at Luckiamute natural area

Members of a planting crew place native plants in the ground last week as part of a restoration project on the Luckiamute State Natural Area near Buena Vista.

Photo by Jolene Guzman
Members of a planting crew place native plants in the ground last week as part of a restoration project on the Luckiamute State Natural Area near Buena Vista.

BUENA VISTA — If you are not careful, you don’t see them — tiny little twigs poking out of the mud left from a recent flood.

Those twigs — really native plants — are part of the ongoing restoration project at the Luckiamute State Natural Area near Buena Vista. The 925-acre state park in southeast Polk County is located near the confluence of the Willamette, Santiam and Luckiamute rivers and features wetlands, upland prairies and floodplain forest.

Because of its unique attributes, LSNA has been recognized as an Oregon Conservation Strategy “priority area,” and Oregon State Parks established a master plan for the tract in 2009.

Restoration on about a third the tract has been going on for years, and will be for years to come. The project has received more than $1.1 million from various sources, public and private, to be stretched out over a lengthy period of time.

“It’s about a decade’s worth of effort,” said Kristen Larson, the Luckiamute Watershed Council coordinator. The council is undertaking the restoration work.

This winter, the Luckiamute Watershed Council received a grant and began work on the third phase of restoration. To date, more than 509,000 native plant species — 30 varieties of shrubs and trees — have been planted on 316 acres of the LNSA.

Work doesn’t end there.

The tiny plants placed in the ground by crews last week will be monitored and through a “plant establishment” program, meaning crews will come back to the planting site, remove weeds and other invasive species that could choke out the natives and plant more, if necessary. The recently received grant for the work will pay for the upkeep for five years.

Previously, crews would replace invasive species with native plants and let them fend for themselves, Larson said. Often that resulted in the invasives growing back and killing the new plants.

“That is really important to have better success,” she said of the five-year plant establishment work.

The benefit of planning restorations in the LSNA is that many places feature mature ecosystems.

“We look at what is working and try to mimic that,” Larson said.

Planting last week was happening on a lesser-used portion of the LSNA, but a “car counter” installed at the main trailhead off of Buena Vista reveals the little-known park is seeing more visitors.

Larson said outreach events — such as the New Year’s Day hikes — will continue to highlight the combination of ecosystems within the LSNA, particularly the floodplain forest now rare in the Willamette Valley. Additionally, the council hopes to add interpretative signs along the trails this spring or summer.

“After doing this work, it’s nice to know people are noticing the changes and coming back,” Larson said.

LSNA Funding

Luckiamute State Natural Area funding sources, 2010 through 2020:

• Oregon Watershed Enhancement Board: $439,317.

• Meyer Memorial Trust: $606,357.

• Bonneville Power Administration: $100,000.

• Oregon Community Foundation: $2,750.

Total: $1,148,424.

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