Volunteers plant trees to protect Hinkson Creek from runoff

Saturday, April 5, 2014 | 5:29 p.m. CDT

COLUMBIA — Mud was everywhere, and Teressa Litchfield, 60, found herself continually stuck and slipping on more than one occasion as she dug holes on the bank of the storm water reservoir at the Forum Nature Area.

"This is why you have to wear boots on days like this," she said with a laugh.

Colton Allen, 23, watched and laughed as his partner for the day slipped on the muddy terrain.

The pair were digging holes to plant small trees in. They joined more than 50 other people Saturday in an effort to plant the trees that will help protect Hinkson Creek from excessive stormwater runoff and pollutants.

"Hinkson Creek is in trouble, mostly because of runoff," said Steve Johnson, executive director of the Missouri River Communities Network. "There are millions of gallons of stormwater going into the creek that weren't there before. And stormwater runoff also brings oil and gas and salt into the stream."

The event, from 8 a.m. to noon, brought together more than 50 volunteers from several organizations, including the Public Works Department, the Missouri River Communities Network, AmeriCorps VISTA, MU Jumpstart, and two groups from the Columbia Parks and Recreation Department, the TreeKeepers and Columbia Aquatic Restoration Project.

Saturday's event was part of a broader project to help protect Hinkson Creek. During the first phase, the Public Works Department designed and created a stormwater reservoir to help divert water runoff. The new trees will help create a stormwater retention pond.

"What we're trying to do here is mitigate surface area that won't absorb water anymore, and engineer ways to slow that water and clean it," Johnson said.

The volunteers planted oaks, cottonwoods and sycamores farther away from the reservoir. Closer to the reservoir, they planted river birches, elderberries and buttonbushes, all of which are suited for absorbing more water.

The reservoir and the water retention pond will work together to divert water runoff, spread it out, water the area and recharge the underground water table through plants with deep root systems, thus cleaning the water and keeping it away from Hinkson Creek, Johnson said.

"The plants are kind of like tent stakes that anchor down a tent, and the reservoir is like having someone or something in the tent to hold it down," said Miranda Challeen, who coordinated volunteer efforts for the event.

Thomas Wellman, the Public Works Department's stormwater engineer who designed the reservoir, was surprised with how well the reservoir seemed to be working so far.

The Public Works Department is planning five to seven more water retention ponds in the area, a costly endeavor, Wellman said.

The volunteers helped take some of the burden off the city.

"Volunteering saves them money. And this is also good experience, especially for younger people," volunteer Elke Boyd said.

Altogether, the project aimed at planting about 1,700 trees Saturday, but organizers weren't sure whether they'd be able to hit that ambitious mark. Boyd, though, was confident that they could plant them all.

"We once did 2,300 trees, and we were done by 11:30 a.m.," she said. "We'll definitely get them planted today."

Supervising editor is Edward Hart.

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