Residents encouraged to roll up their sleeves for clean up and tree planting

Okotoks: Goal of more than 3,000 seedlings to make up for trees lost in flood

By: Roxanne Blackwell

  |  Posted: Wednesday, Apr 30, 2014 02:58 pm

Gordon White, Urban Forester with The Town of Okotoks, picks up garbage with fellow town employee Jen Stenseh near the library on Monday morning.
Gordon White, Urban Forester with The Town of Okotoks, picks up garbage with fellow town employee Jen Stenseh near the library on Monday morning.

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Okotoks residents will get a chance to get their hands dirty and clean up the river valley that was damaged in last years’ flood.

The Town of Okotoks and the River Valley Committee are encouraging people to volunteer a few hours of their time on May 3 for the annual Sheep River Valley Cleanup and Tree Planting.

Last year’s event had a turnout of 250 volunteers who removed more than 1,250 kilograms of garbage. The Town’s urban forester, Gordon White, said that they also planted 2,000 seedlings during the event, but unfortunately some were washed away during the summer flood.

This year, he’s hoping to plant over 3,000 trees at the event to help make up for any that were lost.

White said the flood has caused some extra challenges, such as leftover debris and limited access to certain areas as the bank stabilization construction continues, but he said the flood was actually helpful in regenerating the area.

“Conditions look good, there’s a nice layer of silt and the ground is soft and moist. As the old logs start to decompose they make a sort of nursery for the new seedlings,” he said.

White also said the tree planting is essential to the area because urban centers with high traffic usually lack proper regeneration.

“Without the seedlings we could start to see the forest decline, so this helps supplement the lack of natural regeneration,” he said.

Aside from the obvious environmental benefits, White said the event is a great way for the community to come together and that it gives people a sense of stewardship.

Last year was the first time the tree-planting event was combined with the cleanup and Okotoks community events coordinator Mark Doherty said that they had great results.

“It just made sense to do it the same day. Two years ago, we had a good turnout for the cleanup, but a weak turnout for the tree planting. This way we can really utilize our volunteers and kill two birds with one stone,” he said.

Doherty said usage is down in the river valley because some of the pathways are still closed from the flood so the area is in fairly good shape with minimal amounts of litter. This means that the emphasis is on tree planting over cleanup.

Doherty said they’re counting on volunteers to come help get the job done.

“This community is so great with its volunteers and we’re very environmentally friendly,” he said.

Kathy Coutts and her family have volunteered at the cleanup so many times that she’s lost count, but she said they use the yearly tradition as their way of giving back.

“Everybody has busy lives, but if everyone takes just one morning to help it goes quicker,” she said.

As a volunteer, Coutts said it’s nice to be able to choose what activities you want to take part in. Last year, Coutts focused on planting trees.

“It’s pretty easy, it doesn’t require a lot of strength or skill,” she said. “It’s also very satisfying because you know you’re helping and if we don’t cleanup the river valley becomes full of litter and trash and that doesn’t look good to residents or visitors.”

Onsite registration for the event begins at 9 a.m. in Ethel Tucker Park, where volunteers will be provided with gloves, goggles and clean up supplies. The Town is asking those who would like to take part in tree planting to bring their own shovels and for everyone to dress appropriately with long sleeves and proper footwear. Following the event there will be a barbecue at noon in appreciation of all of the hardworking volunteers.

Coutts hopes other volunteers come and turn the event into a yearly tradition with their families.

“A nice clean river valley shows that we care about our town,” Coutts said. “Hopefully what we’re doing will benefit generations to come.”


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