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Pitching in to clean up public lands

Volunteers will gather for a project on Ochoco National Forest as part of National Public Lands Day

by: PHOTO CONTRIBUTED BY LISA CLARK - This photo was taken during a National Public Lands Day clean-up at the Redmond Caves that took place four years ago.

Local residents will have the opportunity this weekend to pitch in and improve public lands throughout Crook County or enjoy them free of charge.
   The 19th annual National Public Lands Day takes place this Saturday. In celebration of the event, the U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management (BLM) will waive its day-use fees at most recreational sites throughout Crook County and the rest of the country. In addition, the day will feature a variety of volunteer opportunities on Ochoco National Forest or BLM District lands.
   “In the Forest Service, in our region, we generate quite a few events,” said Tom Knappenberger, spokesman for the Northwest region of the U.S. Forest Service. “It is the biggest single volunteer day for the Forest Service.”
   This year, volunteers will remove two wildlife enclosures on the Ochoco near Coyle Butte. The project involves rolling up fence wire and removing posts. It is the first Public Lands Day project that Ochoco National Forest has scheduled in the past two years.
   The enclosures are around a quarter-acre in size, said Tori Kurtz, acting public affairs specialist for Ochoco National Forest. They hope to finish fence removal on one enclosure and perhaps the second, depending on the level of volunteer participation.
   “It’s a beautiful spot,” Kurtz said of the project area. “We are around aspen stands, and the leaves are just starting to change, so it should be a nice day.”
   The Prineville BLM has not scheduled any official public events for this year, but the district will pitch in on projects orchestrated by the Oregon Military Department.
   “I would definitely say Public Lands Day is one of the bigger events where we involve the public,” said Prineville BLM spokesperson Lisa Clark.
   During the past 10 years, they have hosted a variety of events, including Off Highway Vehicle area rehabilitation projects, and clean-up jobs.
   “It has been very successful for us, and it’s definitely something we look forward to,” Clark said. “We have a lot of groups in Central Oregon that look forward to events like this.”
   The Forest Service has encountered similar success with each National Public Lands Day.
   “I think it’s growing every year as people find out more about it and these events become better known and, in many cases, become traditional,” Knappenberger said. “One event will spawn another. There is all sorts of different work that goes on from litter pick-up to trail work to building restoration.”
   The success is a welcome sight for the Forest Service and BLM because it encourages more public involvement in the care of public lands.
   “Any time we can get the public involved in some of the rehab and maintenance, it really stresses and it emphasizes their ownership in our public lands,” Clark said. She added that it opens people’s eyes to the impact of vandalism and misuse on public BLM and forestland. “It’s a really great opportunity for public education.”
   To participate in the Ochoco National Forest project, go to the Ochoco Ranger Station, located 30 miles east of Prineville, at 9 a.m., on Saturday, Sept. 29. Long sleeve shirts and gloves are recommended. The project concludes at noon.