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Nature in full swing

Willamette Primary students enjoy outing at White Oak Savanna
by: VERN UYETAKE Carmel Corrigan, a fourth-grader at Willamette Primary School, took to a rope swing during an outing last week in the White Oak Savanna.

Though the hillside at the White Oak Savanna in West Linn may look barren right now, just wait until next spring - you might spot a river of blue.

Nearly 200 students from Willamette Primary School and West Linn High School recently helped plant 1,000 blue camas bulbs at the White Oak Savanna Oct. 20.

The savanna's 14 acres is located near 10th Street and I-205 at 2000 Tannler Drive. The property, once overgrown, is now being restored to its natural habitat thanks to the Neighbors of a Livable West Linn and volunteers across the city.

Five classes of students helped plant the flower bulbs, including fourth- and fifth-graders in Phil Anderson's and Scot Wavra's classes from Willamette Primary and West Linn High School students from Jim Hartman's, Geoff Bingham's and Jonathan Davies' science classes.

To ensure a broad view of the blooming flowers, the bulbs were planted at the highest point in the savanna. The camas, which can grow up to 50 inches and have six-petaled flowers, bloom for just a few weeks each May.

'This spring, look up from the highway or the street, there will be this beautiful blue swath of flowers,' said Roberta Schwarz, who was instrumental in securing the savanna and organized the bulb planting.

Before planting the bulbs, Schwarz shared with the students the history and the importance of the area and the flower.

'This is a huge deal, what you are doing today,' she told them. 'You are not only making history, you are recreating history.'

According to Schwarz, during their expedition to Oregon, Lewis and Clark referred to the rivers of blue, which were the blooming blue camas.

The flowers were also a vital part of the diet of Native Americans and early American settlers.

They would harvest the flowers in the fall and cook the bulbs, which taste similar to a baked sweet potato. And, when dried, the bulbs could be pounded into flour.

However, the harvesters of the flower had to be very careful. The similar white camas, also known as the death camas, is poisonous and could cause death.

Schwarz said Native Americans worked hard to replant the blue camas and restrict the population of the death camas.

After the short lesson, the students went to work.

The students and volunteers climbed the steep slope in the savanna, then the high school students buddied up with the primary students and they worked together planting the bulbs using planter and stakes.

Christy Russell, mother of fifth-grader Emily Russell and fourth-grader Katie Russell, volunteered the day of the planting.

'I think it's really great people have gone out of their way to preserve and take care of this. It's just a beautiful area,' she said.

As for the students, Russell said, 'It shows them it is a big deal to take care of our surroundings, to appreciate nature and value our beautiful community.'

So next spring, remember to look up and find the river of blue.

West Linn's Albertson's donated cookies and water for the students and the Wilsonville Fred Meyer and Tigard Lowe's sold Schwarz 38 bulb planters at cost. The West Linn Parks and Recreation Department purchased the bulbs.

For more information about the White Oak Savanna, visit www.nlwl.org.