Grande Ronde Model Watershed, Wallowa-Whitman National Forest teaming up to celebrate National Public Lands Day

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Sep. 21—LA GRANDE — The U.S. Department of Agriculture Forest Service National Public Lands Day, the nation's largest single-day volunteer event for public lands, will be celebrated in national forests across the country on Saturday, Sept. 24, including in Union County.

The Grande Ronde Model Watershed and Wallowa-Whitman National Forest have partnered to host a National Public Lands Day event at Bird Track Springs. The day is dedicated to public service and is celebrated annually across the nation. This year is the second time the day is being celebrated locally in the La Grande area.

"We hope that we've created something that's for everyone," said Carrie Caselton Lowe, the community science outreach coordinator for the Grande Ronde Model Watershed.

Former La Grande District Ranger Bill Gamble was the driving force behind bringing the celebration locally to the community, said Caselton Lowe. This year the organizers are working to ramp up the celebration and also creating processes for future events.

"The idea is to encourage celebration of all kinds of Public Lands Day through the future because public lands includes our county parks, our city parks, as well as our national parks and national forests," she said. "We want to create something that will continue and to encourage other people who manage public lands to host the event in the future."

The Grande Ronde subbasin feeds into the Snake River and part of the Columbia River basin. The watershed helps support and sustain thousands of acres of forested and canyon lands throughout Eastern Oregon. It is home to a variety of native wildlife species — including fish, birds and mammals. The long-term goal is to improve physical and ecological processes by restoring the river channels and floodplain.

Bird Track Springs was chosen as the location for the celebration given the major restoration project that began around four years ago, according to Caselton Lowe. The stream restoration project reengineered the area from being very channelized to being more braided and reengaged the stream with the floodplain.

The Sept. 24 celebration of public lands at Bird Track Springs will begin with a focus on service. The morning will give volunteers the opportunity to partake in a rotation of public service activities. This includes plans for trail development in partnership with the Forest Service, litter collection at the campground, collecting data on water quality and monitoring wildlife such as beaver, macroinvertebrate and crayfish.

After a midmorning break, art activities will be introduced into the rotation. Participants can join a wildlife biologist from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to make art with skulls and bones or meet up with a soil scientist for painting with soil.

"We could run art the whole time, but we really want even small children to give back and have that service piece of it first," said Caselton Lowe. "We're all going to work, we're going to work first and then we can play a little more."

Throughout the day there will also be 20-minute slots for storytelling sessions. This is being done in collaboration with Art Center East as part of its community storytelling project. Attendees will be able to record an interview with each other while overlooking the river, said Caselton Lowe. The storytelling team will provide a list of questions or participants can come up with their own. People can also choose to share their own stories.

"We're going to be recording those stories overlooking the banks of the Grande Ronde and those will be posted on the Art Center East website down the line," said Caselton Lowe.

Free transportation to Bird Track Springs will be provided. A bus will depart from Eastern Oregon University's football field parking lot at 8:30 a.m. and return at 1 p.m. from Bird Track Springs. Lunch from Sub Shop 21 will be provided for volunteers who pre-register by Sept. 22.

Isabella Crowley is a reporter for The Observer. Contact her at 541-624-6014 or icrowley@lagrandeobserver.com.