City swaps hands-on work for education

Volunteers will learn about ecology and backyard plant life.
Monday, February 26, 2007 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 9:45 p.m. CDT, Thursday, July 10, 2008

The city parks department is integrating community service and the outdoors in a program designed to get volunteers looking at bugs, handling plants and wading into murky waters.

The Columbia Aquatic Restoration Project, or CARP, is signing up volunteers willing to contribute 18 hours of service on projects in city parks in return for free classes taught by local experts on aquatic plant management, pond and lake ecology, rain gardens and aquatic insects.

The classes will be held in the evening on March 5, 12 and 19 and include hands-on labs.

“All of the information in the classes can be applied to the aquatic restoration projects in the parks as well as in the backyards of volunteers with regards to rain gardens, ponds and insect life,” Brett O’Brien, natural resources supervisor, said.

The city Office of Volunteer Service and the Public Works Department’s Stormwater Outreach Program are also involved. CARP is based on the model of the TreeKeepers forestry restoration and volunteer program, which has logged 8,200 hours of service with its 200 trained volunteers.

The success of TreeKeepers inspired O’Brien to think about other projects that would let volunteers help the Parks Department and translate into skills they could apply to their neighborhoods and backyards.

“The goal is to get people connected and interested in the park system and taking care of green infrastructure,” O’Brien said. “We want to get people making connections between the park environment and their collective human impact.”

Columbia parks are part of the larger local ecosystem, and some of the ecological problems in the parks are affected by conditions in surrounding neighborhoods, like the planting of invasive species and using lawn fertilizer.

Stormwater educator Mona Menezes, who regularly teaches about the dynamics of runoff, will be tailoring her curriculum to address aquatic restoration for a CARP class.

“When we make changes to our landscape and build structures and add asphalt to areas that used to be grassland, it increases the amount of runoff and the things that are on that surface,” Menezes said. “Things coming out of our cars like oil, anti-freeze and gasoline flow into the storm drains and into our creeks.”

One of the first projects for CARP volunteers will be planting yellow flag and copper iris in the bottom of Flat Branch creek. Flat Branch is the final destination for most of the storm drains from downtown and the runoff around Providence Road and Broadway.

As the iris become established, they will prevent erosion by slowing the flow of water and allowing silt and cinders to settle out before heading to more ecologically sensitive areas downstream. This iris will also add yellow and golden hues from June to August.

In addition to the Flat Branch project, volunteers will be working at Stephens Lake, weeding out invasive species such as water primrose that crowd that surface of the water and make boating and fishing difficult.

CARP has been a cooperative effort with the parks department providing the tools and the plants and volunteer services providing the logistics.

”The turnout has been about what we expected, with 10 people registered so far, but I expect more interest before classes start next week,” Volunteer

Services coordinator Leigh Nutter said. Organizers have an eye toward continuing to offer the training.

Registration forms can be downloaded from the city’s web site at

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