Two high-visibility open space projects have resulted in a pair of statewide awards for the Corvallis Parks and Recreation Department.

The Oregon Recreation & Park Association honored parks planner Jackie Rochefort for her work on the Marys River Natural Area boardwalk and parks supervisor Jude Geist for his efforts on the oak restoration in the Chip Ross and Timberhill natural areas.

Association executive director Michael Klein, who presented Rochefort and Geist with their plaques at the Nov. 20 City Council meeting, said that it is unusual for a community the size of Corvallis to receive two awards in the same year. The association honors individuals in up to 11 categories annually.

Rochefort, who has been with Parks and Rec for more than 18 years, was given the association’s planning award, while Geist, who has been with the department since 2012, won the award for environmental leadership.

Here is a look at the two projects:

Marys River boardwalk

“The Marys River boardwalk project was extremely complex,” said Karen Emery, director of Parks and Recreation. “Jackie jumped through every hoop — and sometimes twice.”

The boardwalk trail system off of Southwest Brooklane Drive was wiped out by flooding in the winter of 2011-12. The city started its replacement efforts with a $200,000 grant from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, but things got a whole lot more challenging from there.

Among the hurdles Rochefort and the city had to face were: the land includes city and county property, wetlands and floodplain issues had to be addressed, tribes were brought in because of the possibility of Native American cultural resources, and two plantings of the endangered Nelson’s checkermallow had to be undertaken.

Also, because of the FEMA money, federal approvals were required all along the way, including a requirement that materials that were washed out be reused.

City funds and donations made up the rest of the budget for the $500,000 project, which broke ground in April and opened to the public in September.

Local contractor Scott Taylor salvaged as much of the wood as he could and built the new boardwalk atop helical piers designed to keep it above any future floodwaters.

“It took a great deal of persistence, organization, critical and analytical thinking to solve what I came to think of as a puzzle to meet all of the permit requirements for the project,” Rochefort said. “There were several times where I thought I should give up on the project, but then I kept thinking that I was in too deep to give up.”

Oak woodland restoration

“The Chip Ross oak release project was important because … there is less than 1 percent left in the Willamette Valley,” Emery said. “Jude took this on because if he didn’t, we would lose the resource.”

Geist assembled a platoon of collaborators. Community members wrote the Oregon Water Enhancement Board grant proposal that brought in $120,000 in seed money. Parks and Rec also worked with Oregon State University because some of its forestry property was involved — “oak habitat doesn’t stop at the property line,” Geist said.

Trout Mountain Forestry, which works with the city on management of the Corvallis Forest on Marys Peak, thinned the excess Douglas firs and big leaf maples and sold the logs, with the proceeds making up the rest of the $300,000 budget. And Geist had the city’s tree guru, urban forester Jon Pywell, to handle the day-to-day management on site.

“This award is as much for the project as it is for me,” Geist said.

Like Rochefort, Geist and his crew faced a series of challenges. He wanted to start thinning the trees in June 2016, but that plan was scrubbed because of the dangers to nesting birds.

“That set off a whole series of events,” Geist said.

The timber work went into the summer months when high heat and low humidity kept the crews in the trucks because of the fire danger. Which meant that the logging stretched into October — and the rainy season.

The good news — in addition to the new open look to the forest for trail users — is that the proceeds from the logging exceeded expectations. A reserve fund has been created to help pay for invasive species work and trail maintenance and upgrades.

Also, the thinning work uncovered remnants of an old trail system that the city would like to restore and add to the Chip Ross/Timberhill trail network.

No funds exist yet for that project, but the folks at Parks & Rec seem likely to be able to handle it when the money materializes.

Contact reporter James Day at jim.day@gazettetimes.com or 541-758-9542. Follow at Twitter.com/jameshday or gazettetimes.com/blogs/jim-day.

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