Nine volunteers from across the country are spending a month and a half in the small town of Montgomery restoring and revitalizing the Morris Creek Watershed.
On Friday, volunteers with the Americorps National Civilian Community Corps program scattered about a small park along Morris Creek planting trees, painting park benches and trash cans and repairing things from the basketball netting to fencing. Most of the volunteers’ pants were splattered with red paint from the painting project.
Mike King, stream restoration chairman for the Morris Creek Watershed Association, said he and the team have dealt with some extreme conditions since they arrived on March 8.
“We’ve been from 0 to 80 degrees, so that’s just typical West Virginia weather,” he laughed.
But their work is evident all throughout the watershed.
“They’ve made tremendous progress,” King said. “We’ve cleaned off two cemeteries, planted over 150 trees. They’ve done a lot of work here on the park, getting the picnic tables painted and fixing it up.”
Most of the nine volunteers hail from the eastern part of the United States. Benjamin Tryon, 23, the team leader and a recent college graduate from Sacramento, Calif., came the farthest to volunteer in the mountains of West Virginia.
“I wanted to get a more applied, hands-on feel for actually helping communities,” Tryon said. “Instead of dealing with theoretical concepts, I wanted to do hands-on work and really make a difference in America, especially in small communities like Montgomery.”
Tryon said the group has been doing “everything under the sun” to help improve the watershed. The team recently planted redbud trees along the creek’s banks to strengthen the banks. They’ve also done work in the Upper and Lower Donwood cemeteries, fixing fallen headstones, clearing brush and even creating two walking trails along the mountainside above the creek.
And, of course, they’ve worked in the creek itself. Tryon said the group has removed 1.6 tons of garbage from Morris Creek and along Morris Drive, and have built small dams in the stream to oxidize the stream, which has suffered extensive damage from iron runoff from old coal mines.
“We’re trying to oxidize the water,” Marueen Brown, of Oneonta, N.Y., explained. “We’re trying to put more oxygen into the water so that the little bugs and fish can come back into it.”
“Fifteen years ago there was no aquatic life in this stream, nothing at all,” Tryon added. “After 15 years with Mike King working here, a lot has changed. There’s now three native species of trout here and another six species of fish. They need habitat, so the dams we’ve been working on will create fish habitat.”
King said the Morris Creek Watershed Association has teamed up with area institutions, including Bridgemont Community and Technical College, WVU Tech, Concord University, Dartmouth College, Ohio University and Indiana University to provide educational opportunities that have helped improve the watershed. He said this is the first year volunteers from Americorps have had a project at the Morris Creek Watershed, but he plans on applying for another project next year.
“We’d like to have another team back to help us on these projects,” King said. “We always like for them to leave with as much as they brought with them.”
Morris said residents will reap the benefits of the improvements the Americorps volunteers have brought to the watershed for years to come.
The group of volunteers is scheduled to wrap up work in Montgomery on April 30. Tryon said the group’s next volunteer project is in Jackson, Miss.