Volunteers plant native plants in Rock Canyon

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    By JOHN GAMBEE

    In Rock Canyon, it was a day for the plants. And the volunteers planted despite the rocks.

    In fact, more than 160 volunteers from BYU wards and classes, the Utah Branch of the Native Plant Society and the surrounding communities ascended to Rock Canyon on Saturday to re-vegetate the mouth of the canyon.

    Warm sun greeted the volunteers as they tore up old trails, outlined new trails and planted close to 4500 wildflowers, grasses and shrubs in the half-acre of land at the trailhead.

    “It was a nice day to be outside,” said Missy Cook, 20, a BYU senior from Amsterdam, N. Y., majoring in conservation biology. “I like plants. It was fun.”

    Twelve plots of land — 1,000 square feet apiece — were adorned with 350 native seedlings, each in an attempt to infuse the native plant culture back into the canyon.

    “I think it will be a lot more beautiful,” said Jason Naess, 23, a BYU senior from Rocklin, Calif., majoring in horticulture. “I am excited it could be a native landscape.”

    Next weekend volunteers will plant again to bring the spring planting total to 8500 seedlings, said Susan Garvin, a technician at Provo’s Shrub Science Lab.

    Volunteers used picks, mudsticks, old sticks, trowels and wooden stakes to pry an entrance into the rocky soil for the plants to take root.

    Last year, seeds were collected in the canyon and taken to the Shrub Lab to grow throughout the winter.

    The moisture in the ground now makes it the optimal time to introduce them back into nature, Garvin said.

    However, not all the plants will survive, said the restoration’s organizers.

    “If it rains every week, being optimistic, we will have a 75 percent survival rate,” Garvin said.

    Dea Nelson, of the Uintah National Forest Service, said a 50 or 60 percent survival rate would be more likely.

    “Seventy-five percent would be great,” Nelson said.

    Planting techniques as well as the care the area is given following the planting will determine how successful it will be, Garvin said.

    Many volunteers had never planted native grasses in a canyon before and some plants were planted incorrectly, Nelson said.

    In addition, upkeep throughout the summer and fall will be necessary for the plants to survive, Garvin said.

    “We’ll be doing a lot of weeding,” Garvin said.

    Garvin said Rock Canyon Restoration projects for the rest of this spring and summer will include enlarging the demonstration Heritage Garden, connecting the two sides of the Bonneville Shoreline Trail and pulling weeds.

    Besides improving the aesthetic nature of the area, there will be recreational benefits as well, said Phil Allen, a professor of horticulture at BYU and the one of the project’s leaders.

    Allen said that the alien grasses and weeds create a fire hazard up here each summer, Allen said.

    The native grasses and plants are part of a more complete ecosystem that presents less of a fire risk, Allen said.

    He said that once the area is restored, fire pits can be created to facilitate group bonfires throughout the year.

    Fires are outlawed in parts of the canyon.

    “It’s a fire hazard because the (alien) grasses dry out by about early June and become very flammable. What we are planting doesn’t make as much fuel. They also stay green a month longer because they are perennial plants instead of annuals — unlike most of the weeds,” Garvin said.

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