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Make Way for Turtles
Can kids get the UO to help the Millrace?
By Alex Zielinski
The steady increase of UO construction could threaten the habitat of more than just campus-dwelling college students. It could take out some turtles.
|Jason Blazar ponders the plight of turtles in the Millrace. Photo by Naomi Levit / naomilevitphotos.com|
According to Jason Blazar of Camas Education Network, the native Western pond turtle found in Eugene’s murky Millrace might encounter increased habitat degradation if the university goes through with a plan to construct a 1.5-acre parking lot along its bank.
“As far as I know, the orientation of the Millrace has not been included in planning the lot’s design,” says Blazar, who has been working with a group of Looking Glass Riverfront high school students to find a way to help the waterway and its resident turtles.
At the end of last month, Blazar, executive director of Camas, a program that aims to instill restoration knowledge in local youth, took the small group of students out on a walk along the Millrace, located directly behind the school. Blazar discussed the past ecology of the area and the current threats to the ecosystem due to development and invasive species. The students were instantly enthusiastic about the idea of restoring the area to help turtle habitat.
“I am personally encouraged by the students’ interest in this project,” says Looking Glass environmental science teacher Haylie Ketcher. “Right after they went out with Jason, they came to talk to me about their ideas, and I could tell they were all very excited.”
Shortly after that discussion, Blazar found out about the UO’s parking expansion plans in response to increased on-campus building construction. The intended 153-space parking lot would border the east side of the university’s Urban Farm, another program that could be affected by this addition.
According to UO spokesperson Greg Rikhoff, the parking lot’s design will incorporate ecologically aware features, such as a stormwater treatment and irrigation system. In addition, the design calls for a 40-foot setback from the top of the bank.
“The university has a solid commitment to improving the habitat of the Millrace,” says Rikhoff. “The parking lot shouldn’t have any effect on the riparian area and stream itself.”
Blazar sees this situation as an educational experience for the Riverfront students he’s working with, all members of the Lane Metro Youth Corps. While they have had experience in restoring local ecosystems, this project would be unique due to its proximity to the Riverfront school.
“This would be the first project these kids could actually see develop over time, since it’s right out their back door,” says Blazar. “We can explore the importance of restoring the ecology locally to affect the greater Willamette Valley.”
Blazar says that, in most cases, the students rarely return to the areas that they help restore around the community.
As of now, the project is still in its preliminary steps and won’t be put into effect until next fall. However, Blazar says he hopes to talk to UO planning officials prior to then, to see if the two project designs could collaborate.
“This is not a win or lose situation,” says Blazar. “I’m confident that a design could be created to involve the new lot and support the Millrace ecosystem.”