Group ponders fate of Chetco River event

By Jane Stebbins, Pilot staff writer January 09, 2013 10:38 am

Members of the Chetco River Watershed Council (CRWC) last week debated the success of its Cherish the Chetco event last summer and if it they should try for a repeat event this September.

More than a dozen groups comprising about 120 volunteers, assisted in the endeavor. They included the South Coast Coordinating Watershed Council, the CRWC, the state Dept. of Fish and Wildlife, the U.S. Forest Service, South Coast Fishermen and others.

Evening activities, including art shows, lectures and hands-on events, were popular, attracting throngs to the Chetco Community Public Library.

The following morning, the Azalea Middle School Birding Club led a walk to find local species, the high school Interact Club worked alongside the Trash Dogs picking trash from Social Security Bar, the Girl Scouts tackled Loeb Park Bar and the Borderline Surfing Club paddled kayaks and removed trash between Redwood and Miller bars.

Crews also pulled weeds and a U.S. Forest Service biologist led a school of people snorkeling to look at fish along the South Fork of the river.

It wasn’t all work; throughout the day, people kayaked, snorkeled, stand-up paddle-boarded – called “suppin,’” among its enthusiasts – and attended sessions to learn about salmon life cycle, Sudden Oak Death, noxious weeds, water safety and fishing. Others admired artists as they painted or enjoyed river and bird displays.

Many said the event was a success, but some involved in the CRWC wondered what they can do to improve it – or if it is worth the time and energy.

 Event coordinator Ann Vileisis said in September the event was successful and popular, but admitted she didn’t know if the SCCWC would hold it again in 2013. The organization received a one-time grant to host the event – and relations between it and the CRWC brethren in Brookings are tenuous at best.

“We were preaching to the choir,” said CRWC chair Tim Guzik. “Most of those people there were us.”

He said he’d like to see a better return on investment – in both time and money – and have in place a better way to determine a cost-benefit ratio.

“It’s a great feel-good event,” Guzik said. “But what are we attempting to do? What do they learn? I have no problem spending money, but there has to be an outcome: they’ll become more involved, they learned something, it’s changed someone’s view. Because money’s as tight as it is, I have to ask what changed as a result of the event?”

Areas in which the group felt it could improve could include bringing the event farther down the river, taking a head-count of participants and obtaining feedback about the two-day event and involving other agencies that deal with the outdoors.

Additionally, the group agreed it needs to make sure any future event doesn’t coincide with kids’ sporting events or major events in town.

“The kids were really getting turned on by the insects,” offered CRWC chair Carl Page. “Those were a real eye-opener. Maybe we should do something about what lives in the river.”

The talk brought the group back discussion about the main purpose of the group, which includes outreach and education.

Page noted it’s virtually impossible to take field trips because students usually can only block out an hour of time during the school year, and by the time they’re rounded up, loaded onto a bus, driven to a site, given educational material – and repeat it all in reverse – an hour is long gone.

Short-term goals in the interim include continued discussion about four-wheel-driving in the river, temperature monitoring, working with residents regarding erosion on their lands and education.

Longer-term goals include educating people about grass cuttings – and the effects of nitrates and phosphorous in them – have in the river, erosion along Tuttle Creek, estuary pollution and floodplain conservation and development within them.