If you want advice on what you can do to help Boulder recover from last year’s flood, you might want to talk to Seth Blum. On Saturday, he led a team of 38 volunteers in a flood-restoration project along South Boulder Creek. By all accounts, it was a good day. Not only was the weather perfect, people were eager to get a lot done. And they did.
“There were some 5th graders on the project and they did great,” Blum says. “There were some in their 50s and 60s, and they did great too.”
As for Blum, he’s 17 and a senior at New Vista High School. He organized and oversaw the work along South Boulder Road, just west of Cherryvale Road. There, last September, flood waters ravaged the landscape, leaving a ruined bridge and dead branches amid the muck — essentially a mess.
Blum noticed it often. He lives about 10 minutes away, and, “honestly,” he says, what was once a lush corner of Boulder had become an eyesore, a patch of mud and dirt cleared after the flood.
But thanks to a flurry of shoveling, pick-axing, clipping, raking and moving, the site has been restored. The small group planted 900 native plants, including 300 willows, 30 cottonwood trees, 270 grasses, rushes and sedges and 300 shrubs.
“It’s a good variety,” Blum says, and they’re all native to the region — “what should be there anyway.” Moreover, the plants will prevent unwanted species from invading and help prevent erosion. So will the approximately 2,500 square feet of erosion control matting installed along the banks of the river. It will help prevent loose soil from being washed away in the spring runoff.
The work was organized through Wildlands Restoration Volunteers, a Boulder-based nonprofit that takes direct action to care for and restore the land. It was through the nonprofit that Blum found a youth mentorship program and was encouraged to pick a flood restoration project to lead. Blum approached Boulder Open Space and Mountain Parks, which offered to collaborate on the South Boulder Road area.
“I went to them and they were very receptive,” he says.
The effort should also be beneficial to protecting Preble’s meadow jumping mice in the region. The mouse, which the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service classifies as an “endangered species,” was the center of controversy late last year amid news accounts suggesting that protections for the mice might somehow delay flood recovery efforts in Colorado. Those reports were “inaccurate,” the service implored at the time, emphasizing its efforts with other agencies to achieve recovery while upholding the tenets of the Endangered Species Act.
Now, the mice may find cover from predators in the chokecherry and snowberry shrubs, Blum adds, planted randomly, in a pattern meant to mimic nature. Leadership, Blum has learned from the project, is about organization, particularly on the front end, like getting people, food and equipment all to show up at the same time and place, making sure everyone has what they need to do their job and maintaining positive morale. He had help. Shops, he said, donated some food and snacks. The willow shoots were harvested from Boulder Open Space and Mountain Parks — Wonderland Lake.
In all, with the nonprofit’s support, it was a “pretty cheap project,” Blum notes.
The rewards of one Saturday are sure to linger. When Blum and others pass the site in years to come, they may smile as they mark how much the willows have spread their branches.
“These projects build community,” Blum says. “The volunteers will look at it and say, ‘I worked on that.’”