Two Northwest Youth Corps crew members in orange hardhats posting by McKenzie River
Northwest Youth Corps Help with Holiday Farm Fire Restoration 11/09/2020

Crews of young people are helping to protect Eugene's drinking water by mitigating the impact of post-fire soil erosion along the McKenzie River.

In the aftermath of the Holiday Farm Fire, EWEB is working with our Pure Water Partners and McKenzie Valley landowners to mitigate pollutants, including sediment, and prevent them from entering the river, impacting water quality and complicating drinking water treatment processes.

For the past six weeks, nearly 30 young adults from Northwest Youth Corps have worked in the fire-ravaged watershed while living in temporary campsites at EWEB's Lloyd Knox Park. 

Northwest Youth Corps (NYC) is a non-profit organization that offers teenagers an education-based work experience modeled after the historic Civilian Conservation Corps of the 1930s. According to NYC Executive Director Jeff Parker, the purpose is to help youth and young adults learn, grow, and experience success.

"Our participants and leaders are grateful for the opportunity to participate in the Holiday Farm Fire recovery efforts with EWEB and the Pure Water Partners," says Jeff. "To be working in our own watershed adds even deeper importance to our conservation service work."   

For young crews working in the McKenzie Valley, the primary task has been building and installing erosion control measures such as wattles and sediment fences. Wattles are rolls of fibers wrapped in netting that deflect and direct water flow while trapping sediment. 

Northwest Youth Corp making wattles

NYC crews making handmade wattles.

When installed along burned riparian areas, wattles help prevent increased sediment and fire-related compounds such as organic carbon, nutrients and metals from washing into the McKenzie River, currently Eugene's sole source of drinking water. 

Several wattles in a field

In just three days, NYC crews built 108 20-foot wattles.

Instead of relying on commercially available wattles which are typically filled with non-native plant materials and covered in plastic mesh, the young workers are making hand-made wattles out of jute webbing. The wattles are stuffed with willow branches harvested locally and with wood chips from trees burned in the fire.

Close up of a wattle being constructed

Willow branches from Walterville Pond are used to fill the wattles and stake them in place.

"These young adults are environmentally conscious and education-driven; they want to learn," says EWEB environmental specialist Kris Stenshoel.

As part of their training, Kris tutors each crew about native plants, riparian zones and watershed ecosystems.  

"We talk about EWEB's connection to the river through our hydro generation projects and our community's reliance on the McKenzie for clean drinking water, as well as threats to the watershed," he says. "The kids see themselves making a long-term impact on the health of the river and that gives them a personal connection to the work."  

In addition to building willow wattles, youth crews are installing sediment fences and reseeding with native species to prevent intensely burned areas from losing topsoil with the heavy winter rains.  

Since mid-October, Northwest Youth Corps has installed about 5,250 feet of wattles—that's nearly a mile!

"This recovery effort will be an important chapter in the story of the McKenzie watershed," says NYC Director Jeff Parker. "We are proud to help the healing and restoration of the land, water, and community."  

Learn more about Holiday Farm Fire recovery and watershed restoration.