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Cleanup at Shevlin January 18, 2009

Posted by Bahadir Sahin in English, Haber (News).
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Storms left a mess of the popular park, and crews dont know when it will reopen. But the area has become a classroom for COCC”s forestry and other students as they help survey the damage.
When Paul Stell first visited Shevlin Park after the windstorm that swept through Central Oregon on New Year’s Day, the sight was both awe-inspiring and familiar.

Stell, the natural resources manager for the Bend Metro Park and Recreation District, said it looked like a giant game of pickup sticks — hundreds and hundreds of bent and broken trees, some piled three and four deep, some flattened across roads and picnic tables, and still others upright but leaning precariously against their neighbors. And the more Stell looked, the more he found.

Citing safety concerns, the park district closed the popular 650-acre park along Tumalo Creek on Jan. 2. The cleanup is still in its early stages, and officials don’t know when the park will reopen.

But for students in the forestry and geographic information systems programs at Central Oregon Community College, the damage at Shevlin Park is an opportunity.

Associate professor Ron Boldenow said the programs have long used the park as a classroom, with students using GPS devices to map Tumalo Creek, the trails or the picnic benches. Boldenow was planning on doing the same this year, but when classes resumed Jan. 4, the park was closed.

He contacted Stell to see if there was some way he could get his students into the park.

“I called Paul, and he said, ‘I don’t mind, if you’re careful,’” Boldenow recalled. “I asked, ‘Do you need any help?’ And he just said, ‘Oh, my.’”

For the past couple weeks, students have been helping survey the damage, mapping the type, location and dimension of every downed or badly damaged tree. Their work is nearly finished, and by Friday they expect to deliver their findings to Stell. He’ll be using the information to negotiate with salvage logging companies interested in helping the park district finish the cleanup job.

“It’s every college student’s dream, to get out on a real job,” Stell said. “It’s a real live job, it’s not some textbook thing. It’s a real project, and they’re providing a real service.”

Park crews haven’t been idle either. Thursday afternoon, a dozen or so park employees tended piles of burning slash, while another dozen COCC students crawled along the trunks of downed trees, fighting through the branches to run tape measures along the trunks.

Stell said his crews have cleaned up what they can, cutting down leaning or damaged trees, but they’ve reached the limits of what they can do safely.

Rachel Armstrong, a 30-year-old forestry student from Bend, said the park crews have been making steady progress.

“There’s been a lot of work done since we were here last week,” she said. “It looked like carnage on Thursday.”

Mapping downed trees is an appropriate project for GIS students like Nathan Trammell, a 47-year-old from Prineville who enrolled in the program when he found his knees couldn’t handle the crawling involved in his old job as a heating, ventilation and air-conditioning installer. The timber industry popularized GIS, Trammell said, but its adoption by government and other industries has opened up several job opportunities for graduates.

Driving the college van south through the park, Boldenow explained what makes Shevlin Park unique.

Tumalo Creek, and the valley surrounding it on either side, creates a drainage that draws cold air down from the mountains. The cool temperatures allow species like the Engleman spruce to thrive at the park, Boldenow said, though they’re usually only seen at much higher elevations.

Deeper into the park, the level of damage is significantly greater. Hundred-foot trees have toppled, tipping up root balls 20 to 30 feet across. The holes left behind are filled with smooth rocks as big as basketballs and have ponds with water a foot deep.

The rarely seen subsurface provides clues to the park’s past and an explanation of what happened on New Year’s Day.

The rocks indicate that Tumalo Creek has changed its course many times over the years, Boldenow said, bouncing and jostling them until sharp edges disappeared. The ponds point to a shallow water table, where tree roots don’t have to burrow deep to find water. Ponderosa pines do not have a taproot, Boldenow said, and the root systems will only go as deep as the water, leaving them prone to falling over in a strong wind.

“The trunks are stout; it’s a matter of whether the roots can stay rooted, and along the stream, they’re pretty shallow,” he said. “That’s why they grow so well.”

Sitting atop a flattened ponderosa pine with a set of calipers in her hand, forestry student Becky Ryan greeted Boldenow as he approached and shouted out the tree’s vital statistics — 43-inch diameter, 127 feet tall.

After showing off a reddish lump of root fungus she’d found hanging off the upturned roots, Ryan, 26, of Culver, explained that the Douglas fir is the thickest downed tree she’s found at Shevlin Park, but it’s not the tallest. The students only measure the part of the tree that can be milled into usable wood, she explained, so at the point where the trunks taper to less than 5 inches in diameter, they stop. Even with the tops left out of the equation, Ryan said they’ve measured trees more than 160 feet tall.

Boldenow said the size of the trees at Shevlin can be misleading. Thanks to more accessible water, the taller, thicker trees closest to Tumalo Creek are actually younger than their shorter, thinner cousins on the west side of the road. Boldenow squatted down to count the rings on a tree that park crews had cut open. He counted 163, plus or minus, and wasn’t terribly impressed.

At Fremont Meadows, where the road that runs through the park comes to an end, trees have come down by the dozens.

Day-glo orange letters that are barely legible on the frozen grass tell visitors — “Do Not Enter.” They are residue from the warning park crews painted atop the now-melted snow a few weeks earlier.

Trees with trunks 2 and 3 feet across smashed through each of the four long green picnic tables at the edge of the meadow, and a three-quarter-inch bolt that once held a gate together has been snapped in two.

An open clearing like the meadow is an invitation to blowdowns and tree damage, Boldenow said, pointing to the many forked trunks among the trees still standing.

Thirty feet up and higher, several trees have deep red abrasions or are missing chunks of bark — scars from where they knocked together in the wind.

On the ground, trees lie across other trees, their trunks flexed like bows ready to fire. Whoever cuts them will need to be both careful and well trained, Boldenow said.

Although the damage to the park is significant, it should have little impact on the area over the longer term, he said.

“Disturbance, we’ve learned, is part of an ecosystem. In some ways it’s unfortunate, the park remains closed, but in other ways, it’s thinned the trees, and it’s better in the long term,” Boldenow said.

“It’s unfortunate it hits when there’s low timber prices and a strained budget; that’s sort of a triple-whammy.”

Stell said he’s had a handful of logging companies contact him about cutting the trees, and despite low timber prices, he’s optimistic the park district can earn enough from the salvage operation to offset some of the cost of the cleanup. What the cost will be is still unknown.

He hasn’t been able to come up with a backup plan and said the prospect of damaged trees falling is keeping him up at night.

“It’s the most dangerous kind of logging operation there is because there are so many variables one can’t even imagine,” he said.

“When you’ve got trees on top of trees on top of trees, it’s slow and tedious work, and it’s very dangerous.”

Even with the park closed and signs warning that trespassers may be cited, a few visitors slip into Shevlin Park every day, according to forestry students. Michael Mann, 32, from Crooked River Ranch, said it’s obvious people are eager to get back into the park, regardless of the risk.

“Oh, they can see the signs,” Mann said. “The people who want to be out here are out here.”

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