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Volunteers plant hundreds of trees in Cochrane's Riverfront Park

Giese said the program is not only important for the environment, but also acts as a community bonding event, and as a teaching tool to help recruit future stewards.

While ‘branches and banks’ may evoke images of suits and investors, a group of avid local volunteers wore cover-alls and shorts last weekend to invest in the environment as part of a project called Branches & Banks.

The group of volunteers brought their shovels and enthusiasm to Riverfront Park, eager to plant anywhere from 400 to 500 trees as part of the Cochrane Environmental Action Committee’s (CEAC) latest effort to restore the shore.

The Branches & Banks program is part of CEAC’s ongoing effort to promote environmental stewardship and community spirit in Cochrane through the planting of trees and environmental enhancement activities. Their latest tree planting project started May 13, when about 35 employees from local tech company Garmin planted approximately 1,300 trees.

The following day, more volunteers from around Cochrane were at work at Riverfront Park.

All together, when they are done, volunteers will have planted $10,000 worth of trees, including aspen, birch, dogwood, spruce, and wild rose, all indigenous to the area. Indigenous species will be Chinook-tolerant and drought-tolerant.

Since Branches & Banks’ inception in 1996, over 6,500 volunteers have planted nearly 45,000 trees in Cochrane, most of which are native species.

Volunteers also clean creeks and restore riparian areas (the interface between land and a river or stream).

Planting has been done along much of the Big Hill Creek, Jumping Pound Creek, Bow River, and Mitford Park.

CEAC uses the money they make running the Cochrane Farmers’ Market to finance their operations. The tree-planting project is a collaboration between CEAC and the Town of Cochrane.

As well as enhancing the land by planting trees, CEAC president Tim Giese said there was also an effort underway to restore and improve the fish habitat in nearby creeks, which drain into the Bow River.

“There was a gentleman working on turning these creeks into fish hatcheries and he was getting frustrated these areas were being trampled on, going through the creeks, getting mud and stuff in the creeks, and when we approached the Town, they said they knew exactly where they wanted us to plant. And here we are,” Giese said.

The planting site is adjacent to where Big Hill Creek flows into the Bow River.

Giese said the program is not only important for the environment, but also acts as a community bonding event, and as a teaching tool to help recruit tomorrow’s stewards – as evidenced by the number of children out getting their hands dirty on Saturday.

“Nothing gets people closer together,” he said. “People don’t know what a riparian area is. Educational outreach and community are actually just as important or more important than the planting of trees.”

Ozziy Lang from the environmental education and outreach group HOWL was on hand at Riverfront Park Saturday, showing young children how waterways can be affected by human activity and the importance of stream rehabilitation.

“Working with the kids and working with the community at events like this, especially ecosystem rehabilitation, it’s amazing the conversations that you have,” he said.

Lang is an environmental educator living in Calgary now, but he grew up in Cochrane and spent a lot of time in Riverfront Park.

“So coming back here and being able to give back is really great,” Lang said.

“This is a flood zone, so this area would have been flooded in 2013, so [there was] a lot of debris. And they’re trying to rehabilitate this creek so more fish populations come back, and this area is huge for recreation, so it’s great that people get out here and be in nature but the negative side is some of the plants and animals get driven away,” he added.

Howard May

About the Author: Howard May

Howard was a journalist with the Calgary Herald and with the Abbotsford Times in BC, where he won a BC/Yukon Community Newspaper Association award for best outdoor writing.
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