COTTAGE GROVE – Sections of the Row River are getting a facelift thanks to a contract between the City of Cottage Grove, The Coast Fork Willamette Watershed Council (CFWWC) and The Freshwater Trust (TFT). The project was unanimously approved by the Cottage Grove City Council at last week’s meeting.
TFT launched a riparian reforestation program in 2023 to plant and steward native trees and shrubs in the upper Willamette River watershed to improve wildlife habitat and water quality — and this newest project is one piece of that puzzle.
“The goal of this project would be to improve wildlife habitat and water quality,” said Olivia Duren, TFT restoration program manager. “Our team has identified the Row River Nature Park as a priority to restore shade.”
The soon-to-be reforested area is currently covered with invasive species such as English ivy and Himalayan blackberries. The area has also been used for camping and garbage dumping — something the city has cleared multiple times over the last few years with the help of the Lane County Sheriff’s Inmate Work Crew.
The 3.3-acre worksite will also open the potential for new trails and new signage, highlighting the reforestation project and wildlife in the area.
“Another benefit is just removing the blackberries,” said Reilly Newman, projects manager with the CFWWC. “There’s potentially a lot of native understory that’s just been suppressed and so in addition to installing these trees there could be some surprises underneath there.”
Funding for the project comes from the Metropolitan Wastewater Management Commission (MWMC), aimed at “protecting our community’s health and the environment by providing high-quality wastewater services” to the Eugene-Springfield metropolitan area in partnership with Eugene, Springfield, and Lane County. Growing a new tree canopy will shade streams and produce “shade (thermal) credits” the MWMC can use for water quality compliance.
The Oregon Environmental Quality Commission approved a voluntary water quality trading program to reduce pollution and protect the quality of Oregon’s waterways, otherwise known as “Oregon Shade Credits.” As part of this program, municipalities and other industries can offset their water thermal pollution with the placement of new shade riparian plantings.
In 2016, a similar project was conducted by the MWMC to restore the Mill Race in Springfield, near the Booth Kelly Complex.
TFT in partnership with CFWWC will lease the 3.3 acres for 20 years, managing the land for the duration of the project for $350 per acre per year — totaling in just over $23,000 for the city.
Next steps include entering the agreement with project partners and beginning invasive removal in the spring.
“The project is appealing to us because it complements the northwestern pond turtle habitat restoration and improves water quality, but it will also release erosion and absorb the excess nutrients in the soil,” Duren said. “The project can support public education and potentially create new river access points and trails. It’s another step in responsible land management.”