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More than 120 volunteers planted about 650 native riparian plants Saturday as the first step in a project aimed at regenerating a lost portion of Dunawi Creek.

The volunteers, which consisted of dozens of local volunteers as well as more than 60 Oregon State University students, are hoping the plants will help to restore native wildlife on the City of Corvallis’ agricultural field between Bald Hill and the Benton County Fairgrounds and eventually help reconnect two sections of Dunawi Creek that were separated more than 75 years ago.

“Historically, there was a stream going through here, but just because no one paid attention, for decades and decades, people forgot about it, so they tilled it over,” said organizer Dave Eckert of the Corvallis Sustainability Coalition. He added that aerial photos dating back to the 1930s show the creek's separation. “There are a number of issues that were created when that was lost,” he said.

According to Eckert, if the creek is reconnected, it will create a more sustainable ecosystem for aquatic and nonaquatic life in the area. The aquatic life needs the gravel from the creek's north end on Bald Hill, and native birds and other wildlife in the area need the native riparian plants along creeks and streams for habitat and food.

“The rocks and gravel create that habitat for the aquatic life that the fish eat,” he said. “Until you have the whole stretch reconnected, you don’t have that whole ecosystem.”

Saturday’s plantings are the first step in what is expected to be a years-long project to restore native plants on four acres of City of Corvallis agricultural land. Although city officials granted approval and support for the project, they provided no funding. Instead, organizers are relying on grassroots fundraising from the Corvallis Sustainability Coalition, Friends of Parks and Recreation, Corvallis Oddfellows, and the Marys Peak Group of the Sierra Club.

“It’s very personal grassroots. These are donations and fundraising from individuals who are passionate about this,” Eckert said. “It’s going to take money and time. We’re not sure what we’ve bitten off, so we’re doing it carefully and one step at a time.”

If Saturday’s efforts end up being the last step, Eckert said the project will have been worthwhile.

“Even if we did nothing else, this area needs this,” he said. “I’ve never seen this many people come together for a project like this. There is a lot of passion for this, so I think we’ll keep going.”

Ralph Alig, a retired Forest Service Research & Development employee, said Saturday’s turnout is a positive sign that the project will continue.

“This is unexpected to see this many good people come out,” he said. “I think it’s a great example of community conservation, and that’s what is needed is people joining together to help improve our environment.”

Volunteer Tim Jensen said he and many of his neighbors use and enjoy walking the trails of Bald Hill, and that he and others wanted to get involved to help “pay it forward.”

“We’re here on a nearly daily basis and we see the wildlife and we love it. This is our backyard,” Jensen said. “If you benefit from this landscape, then you should work to protect it.”

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