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Pulling Together

AmeriCorps group from Alaska is enjoying the relatively warm weather here while attacking pesky invasive plants
by: Vern Uyetake, Jo Swanson of Willow River, Minn., goes after a blackberry vine which has climbed up into a tree.

Pulling out prickly blackberry bushes and pesky ivy vines isn't most peoples' version of a good time.

This group of seven volunteers from AmeriCorps, the national volunteer organization, based in Nenana, Alaska, however, is just glad to be in above-zero climates.

So if you happen to be driving around West Linn or surrounding areas in Clackamas County and see a group covered in mud, with scratches zigzagging up and down their arms, don't worry, they're not insane.

They're here rescuing our stream and riverbeds from invasive plants and planting new ones to prevent erosion. This assignment is part of their obligation to AmeriCorps, which has taken this group from building houses for Habitat Humanity in sub-zero temperatures in Alaska several weeks ago to planting rose bushes in West Linn.

'It's nice to be outside,' said Kathy Garrigan, assistant team leader from Chicago. 'We're coming from negative-20 degrees. So it's been beautiful for us. And the chance to work outside has been nice. And it's a really good chance to get out and get your hands dirty in all kinds of fields.'

There are a number of invasive plant species that are not only a nuisance in Oregon but are destroying natural habitat. Among the worst are ivy vines and blackberry bushes, according to the Oregon Invasive Species Council.

This AmeriCorps group, which has been staying at Marylhurst University dorms for about two weeks, is working with SOLV to tackle the problem - at least in this neck of the woods.

'It's a lot of fun,' said Travis Alexander of Fort Yukon, Alaska. 'We're learning a lot of things about invasive plants and how to get rid of them.'

The group has been working mostly in the numerous creek and streambeds strewn all around West Linn and throughout the Willamette and Tualatin river corridors.

On Monday they braved a morning rainstorm at Fields Bridge Park. In the afternoon it was hail that greeted them in the basin of Arbor Creek, which runs the perimeter of Marylhurst.

'I joined (AmeriCorps) because I wanted to work with different people,' Willow River, Minn. native Jo Swanson said. 'I get to meet people from all over.'

Armed with rakes and sheers, the group descends down the gullies and canyons most of us merely drive by while admiring the greenery. But if you look closely, it's easy to see the signs of where they've been - bare hillsides, strewn with plant scraps and interspersed with fresh plantings.

And recently, the tell-tale sign of their group has been the muddy footprints.

'Everybody has been really supportive,' said Liza Lomando of Saranac Lake, N.Y. 'Everyone says 'hi' when they walk by and thanks us for what we're doing.'

The group is part of AmeriCorps' Tribal Civilian Corps division, a section of the organization based in reservations and deployed to tackle projects identified by sponsoring tribes. Three members are spending their first time outside of the state of Alaska.

'I've been doing good,' said Jerald John, a resident of Arctic Village, Alaska. 'Portland has been great. It's a lot different from 30-below zero to 65 degrees.'

Before Oregon, the group was working in Alaska doing a number of tasks. Members shoveled snow for seniors, worked with youth at Head Start programs and built houses for Habitat for Humanity.

The light at the end of the tunnel is a $5,000 scholarship for higher education.

'It's a good chance for you to see how you want to spend the rest of your life while serving your country,' Garrigan said.