Swaner EcoCenter volunteers get muddy while harvesting willows that will be replanted along the banks of East Canyon Creek. The willows will help anchor
Swaner EcoCenter volunteers get muddy while harvesting willows that will be replanted along the banks of East Canyon Creek. The willows will help anchor the banks and provide nutrients and shelter for the creek's inhabitants. (Photo courtesy of the Swaner EcoCenter)
The first item on the Swaner EcoCenter's mission is to preserve land. From there, the nonprofit organization educates the local community and then nurtures the ecosystem.

One of the ways to do this is through its annual willow harvest, which will take place this year from Thursday, April 3, through Saturday, April 5.

EcoCenter staff and volunteers will harvest willow stems that will be planted later on the banks of East Canyon Creek, said Brittany Ingalls, conservation coordinator for the Swaner EcoCenter.

"Once they are replanted, the willows will help stabilize the creek's bank, provide a habitat for wildlife and provide shade," Ingalls explained. "We will cut the willows from a couple of sites along the south side of the Swaner Preserve."

Holding this project in the early spring is a way to ensure the health of the plants.

"We want to get to the willows while they are still dormant, so they will last until it's time to plant them," Ingalls said. "Willows are also native to the area, and that's another reason why we use them."

The Swaner EcoCenter focuses on East Canyon Creek because it's environmentally in danger.

"It has been designated as an impaired water body, which means the area doesn't meet its beneficial use," Ingalls said. "That body of water is supposed to be a cold-water fishery and at one time, housed tons of Bonneville cutthroat trout.

"It turns out that those fish are a sensitive species and, due to the pressures of development and decrease in water quality, they haven't been able to survive," she said. "So the willows will help us restore their habitat and preserve the area for other wildlife."

Last fall, the EcoCenter partnered with the East Canyon Creek Watershed Committee for a major restoration effort in that area.

"That included some contract work, soil lifting and deep-root planting," Ingalls said. "We have also worked with the Park City Lacrosse Team to collect old Christmas trees that we use to help stabilize the creek's banks as well."

After the willow harvest project next weekend, the Swaner EcoCenter will hold the planting project Thursday, April 24, through Saturday, April 26.

"We need to plant them really deep, about three feet into the ground so they meet the water table," Ingalls said. "That leaves about 18 inches of the plants above ground.

"We trim them off a bit off the top, so the plant can concentrate on growing its roots, which is our main goal," she said. "That also helps the plant to survive."

The willows tend to take hold pretty quickly.

"We also use some techniques in order to get them to establish a root system," Ingalls said. "As the roots expand, they will serve as an anchor for the stream banks so it won't erode very quickly. Also, the roots catch sediment that provides nutrients to the plants and increases water quality downstream."

People can sign up by visiting www.swanerecocenter.org or by emailing Brittany.ingalls@usu.edu .

The volunteers will meet at the EcoCenter, located at 1258 Center Dr. at Kimball Junction, and will need to dress appropriately, Ingalls said.

Both the harvesting and planting events are sponsored by Whole Foods who will provide snacks for the volunteers.

"We'll be outside, so dressing for the conditions is a good thing to do, but once someone is signed up to volunteer, we email them more information about what to expect," Ingalls said. "We will provide most of the tools, as well. There are some people who like to bring gardening gloves."

The willow harvesting is one of the first outdoor projects of the year for the EcoCenter.

"We love things like this, especially in the springtime," Ingalls said. "It's fun for us to get outside and do some fieldwork, and it is also an awesome mechanism to get volunteers involved.

"It gives us a chance to get community members and neighbors out to the EcoCenter and teach them what we do," she said. "That helps people get more invested in our organization and programs."

The Swaner EcoCenter needs volunteers to help harvest willows on Thursday, April 3, through Saturday, April 5. Thursday and Friday hours will be from 1 p.m. until 4 p.m. and the Saturday session will be from 9:30 a.m. until 12:30 p.m. For more information or to volunteer, visit www.swanerecocenter.org or call 435-649-1767.