SW Charter School Learns from JCWC

In the spring of 2013, two 8th grade students from the SW Charter School came to learn from and help JCWC – one day a week over the course of  eight weeks. JCWC wanted to learn what students their age really wanted to know about Johnson Creek.  What questions did they have while they explored and played in the water?

Alivia and Avery help revitalize the native plant garden in the atrium at JCWC Headquarters. Photo by volunteer Curtis Cooksey.

Here’s what they asked:

What types of plants are there? Which ones are native and what ones are not?

There are many native and non-native plants around Johnson Creek! See the City of Gresham’s is Native Plant Guide  for more details on some of the native plants that grow in the area. See this poster from the City of Portland information on some of the invasive plants in the area.

Are there any animals that live around here? If so, what are they?

Yes! There are many animals that call the Johnson Creek Watershed their home. This includes otters, beavers, coyote, deer, over 50 species of birds, hundreds of different kinds of insects, bats, trout, salmon, many species of frogs, salamanders and freshwater mussels – just to name a few!

What’s the general history of the creek?

Many different stories are told about Johnson Creek but there isn’t one place that has all this knowledge collected. A great account of some of the history of Johnson Creek was written by one of the founding members of the Council, Steve Johnson. A link to his account can be found here.

How much litter gets into the creek per year/month?

JCWC cleans over five miles of the creek once each year with the support of 150 volunteers. For the last six years we’ve managed to remove over 3.5 tons of garbage. Hopefully, we will see a decline in the years to come. This year’s Johnson Creek Clean Up event is on Saturday, August 24. Contact Volunteer and Outreach Coordinator Amy Lodholz at amy@jcwc.org to sign up.

Do any chemicals end up in the creek from factories and such?

Yes, there are chemicals in Johnson Creek, but not necessarily from factories. Most of the chemical pollution in the creek comes from debris from roadways (that enters from roadways when it rains), some local businesses and farms (fertilizers and animal waste).

How old is the creek?

Great question. We know Johnson Creek was formed through the from the Missoula Floods, approximately 15,000 years ago.

How long is it?

Johnson Creek is approximately 26 miles long.

On a map, what is its course?

Johnson Creek runs from farmland in Boring through Gresham, Damascus, Portland and empties into the Willamette River in Milwaukie.

How many parks does it go through?

We have many parks in the Johnson Creek Watershed! Visitors won’t want to miss Gresham Woods, Gresham Main City Park, Portland’s Tideman Johnson Park, Johnson Creek Park and Milwaukie’s Mill Park just to name a few.

How much does it erode away the bank?

In some places where the creek lacks proper tree and plant coverage, the creek does have some erosion problems. JCWC works to combat these issues by continuing to plant more trees and shrubs.

What did the creek used to look like?

Johnson Creek was a meandering stream with a wide floodplain before urbanization began to try to control and straighten its path.

What is the strangest thing that has been found either in the creek or on the bank? Any fun facts? 

During last year’s Johnson Creek Clean Up volunteers found a vacuum and a lap top!

See a video of Alivia and Avery as they discuss their Johnson Creek experience

Video by volunteer Curtis Cooksey.

Avery writes about her experience at JCWC:

“I have really enjoyed my internship here. I learned about water and plants. I got to help with the restoration project and with the native plant garden. I made a bit of a film/interview with my friend Alivia. I also got to explore the creek.

I didn’t do much with the restoration project. I just weeded along the banks of the stream for a short while. The really cool part was the wildlife we/ I saw. There was a blue heron that perched some yards away from us and just watched us for a while. Then it started walking along the creek towards us. It stopped and stood no more than 6 yards away, and continued watching us for awhile. After a bit it took off and flew past us down the creek. It kept watching us. That was one of the coolest things I’ve seen here. We also saw a bunch of baby ducklings. They were so adorable!

I think I enjoyed working on the native plant garden the most. Actually, that`s wrong- Exploring was the most fun But of the actual projects, the garden was the most fun. I got to help with the weeding of the garden as well as the planting of the plants, the mulching of the plants, and the watering of the plants. It was really cool to see the whole garden come together and to know that I played a big part in that.

Making the film/interview was really fun too. We worked with another intern who asked us questions and filmed our answers. We had waders on for part of the time and we walked through the creek and splashed each other.

On our first day here Alivia and I got to explore Johnson Creek. It was so much fun. We had been expecting to make posters or do office work but instead we get there and learn we get to walk in a creek. It was awesome! We put on waders and rain jackets and just walked through the creek for about an hour. You could even sit down!

It’s important to volunteer and give back to your community. We spend so much time taking things and using our natural resources. We need to give back to keep our planet healthy. It also helps bring people together and creates a better community for everyone.

I really enjoyed my time here. It was by far one of the coolest things I’ve done for school. If I could do it again I would. It was a really great experience. “

About the SW Charter School Internship Program:

Southwest Charter School is a place-based school. It draws from our local urban and wild settings to extend learning beyond the walls of our classrooms. Core to this work is the service-learning program.

All middle school students completed an eight-week internship in different locations. Not only do service internships offer students the opportunity to give back to the community, they also allow students to practice several “real-world” skills such as communication, team work, perseverance and problem solving. The ultimate goal of the service internship program is to develop a relationship with community partners which benefits both sides: the organization gains volunteer service hours and the students receive a valuable education which they would not be able to access in the classroom.


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