An excavator operated by local contractor Walt Keatley helps install large logs with birdhouses at the top Saturday as part of efforts to transform Jackson Hole, a storm water retention pond in Castle Rock, into a wildlife habitat.
After a full day of work, Castle Rock's Jackson Hole looks very little like its former self thanks to the efforts of volunteers both local and regional.
Part of a series of beautification projects begun since 2012, Jackson Hole, a storm water retention pond located on Jackson St. by Cascade Select Market, had merely been a large ditch overgrown with wild grasses and a sickly willow tree, but was transformed Saturday into the start of a wildlife habitat through the efforts of City Hall, local students, Cowlitz County AmeriCorps and other community groups.
"This looks so different," said Felicia Conley, a project lead with AmeriCorps, as the grass was being pulled out and holes being dug to place trees and snags.
Conley said AmeriCorps has been seeking projects throughout Cowlitz County with an intent to involve more rural communities, rather than focusing solely on Longview and Kelso. She said her team provided a few dozen volunteers, between members and their families and friends, and was able to bring in donors such as Home Depot and Miller Paint to contribute materials.
"This, for us, is an amazing project," she said, stating the "sustainable" nature of the improvements to Jackson Hole were just what AmeriCorps has been looking for.
Castle Rock Public Works Supervisor Dave said he estimated around 60 people had been on hand that day, between AmeriCorps, America in Bloom, local high school students and community activists. He pointed out contractor Walt Keatley, who had been brought in by the city, provided instrumental assistance with equipment such as a large excavator.
“This is typical of the projects we do in Castle Rock,” he said of the community’s involvement. “They come out because it’s another worthwhile project.”
Vorse said the city had also taken the initiative to remove the aging willow from the area the Thursday before, stating the dying tree had been "dropping limbs for quite a few years" and needed to be removed.
Placed in its absence were a pair of old, gnarly logs with birdhouses on the top, which had been constructed by wood shop students from Castle Rock High School. Port Orford Cedars were also planted along the south side of Jackson Hole, which America in Bloom organizer Nancy Chennault explained were donated by Cowlitz County Farm Forestry Association.
Chennault also said, once the plants, snags, logs and other features are in place, it is the intent to allow local creatures to seek out and inhabit the area, rather than to transplant a number of animals.
"A natural habitat usually attracts a natural population," she said, indicating work left over from Saturday will be finished during Castle Rock's community work day on May 3.
Among projects sure to be completed on Saturday was a mural on the retaining wall, depicting a cross-section of the pond and displaying the local wildlife expected to live in the habitat.
The mural was hand-painted by a team of AmeriCorps volunteers led by Mackenzie Wentworth, a recent graduate of Woodland High School and painting enthusiast. Wentworth said the project was not unusual for AmeriCorps but had been her first opportunity to lead such an endeavor, and it was said so much material had been donated by Miller Paint, of Longview, there would be enough left over for future AmeriCorps projects.
Cowlitz AmeriCorps organizer Jennie Bergman said her organization attempts to perform at least four projects each year using volunteers contracted for a number of months to assist local community groups. Enrollment in their 2015 volunteer program, which includes regular stipends and a scholarship upon completion, will be open soon and those interested in participating may call (360) 577-5859.
When reflecting on the work performed that day, Mayor Paul Helenberg said, “I can’t believe the progress,” and said he was grateful for the help of the volunteers.
A number of young trees were planted, both to beautify the space and provide a healthy environment for creatures expected to live in the habitat.
AmeriCorps volunteers painted a mural on a western retaining wall depicting local wildlife, using materials provided by Miller Paint, of Longview.
A lunch of spaghetti was provided to volunteers by the Castle Rock Chamber of Commerce, with Castle Rock First Baptist Church providing space for the meal.