May 22, 2012

A pond for fish -- and fishermen

Leslie Pugmire Hole
Spokesman staff
It’s an unfortunate reality that whatever trout aren’t caught during Redmond’s annual fish fair every spring aren’t likely to live long in Redmond’s man-made Fireman’s Lake.
The pond has been a youth/disabled fishing spot and city park since the mid-1950s. Only five feet deep at its center, the pond was originally created to irrigate nearby Juniper Golf Course.
Keeping a healthy environment for the kind of fish anglers like to catch has been an ongoing fight for various Redmond entities – and now a diverse group of high school students are taking a whirl.
“The water quality is not good for fish like trout,” says Jessica Marthaller, a student at Redmond Proficiency Academy (RPA) who has been studying the hydrology at the pond. “The water is murky from all the ducks and geese stirring up the silt and all their feces create a high nitrogen level in the water and increases the algae.”
Marthaller and a growing list of other RPA students have taken on Fireman’s Lake as a project to meld the various subjects they are studying with teacher Brian Wachs, subjects as diverse as Global Information Systems, Plants of the Northwest, Fish & Wildlife and Technical Writing – to name a few.
“I believe in teaching life through science,” says Wachs, who adds that his goal is to stay behind the scenes as much as possible when students tackle projects and partner with the community so they can figure out on their own how to navigate solutions.
The students have mapped and photographed the pond, analyzed water samples, inventoried plant and animal species and researched similar shallow water bodies.
Encouraged by the Redmond Kiwanis, the students have taken all their information and developed a plan of attack for Fireman’s Lake, a plan – they hope – that will make both fishermen and wildlife happy and make the pond’s ecology more sustainable.
“We need to remove a lot of invasive plants like knapweed and we want to put in native plants to help with erosion and water temperature,” says Isiah Goodpasture. While the existing cattails are good for the pond, he says, in years past the city has removed many of the willows lining the banks – and keeping the water cooler – because they interfered with fishermen’s lines.
Native sedges and rushes will be lower than the trees, Goodpature says, but still provide strong root systems for erosion.
Another part of the plan, according to student Gideon Faulconer, is to reduce the resident population of water fowl at the pond. The only way to do that, short of more extreme methods, is to educate the public on the downsides of feeding the birds.
“Right now they have no reason to leave,” says Grace Goschen. “They have all the resources they need.” But the pond was not meant to sustain a population as large as it has now and their high numbers are contributing heavily to decrease the water quality, she adds.
The students would like to create informational signage for the pond, not just to educate visitors about feeding the ducks and geese but also information about the overall ecosystem the pond creates.
The city of Redmond has lined the banks of the lake with large rocks to combat erosion but its success has been limited, according to the students. For one, U.S. Fish and Wildlife crews occasionally need to launch boats for research to the middle of the lake and currently the large boulders make that difficult.
And the ducks and geese have managed to wear paths past the rocks in numerous places in their frequent trips to get handouts.
“We want to line some of the bank with cobblestones because that will keep the soil in place while providing a place for the boats and the ducks,” says Nick Aschenbrenner.
“Our 'shoot for the stars’ idea, if we had plenty of funding, is to add more docks and boardwalks for fishing and viewing,” says Luke Hudson. “It  protectsethe banks and the fish like the docks, it gives them more shade.”
Wachs helped the students develop a summer program, one that could use all the science and technology learned in class and tackle the pond project. It has RPA approval but needs funding for the supplies and Wachs’ supervision.
The students have submitted a grant proposal to Kiwanis, with a menu of restoration ideas that range from $5,000-$10,000. They’re also looking for alternative sources of funding.
“We’ve worked with Wachs before, we think he’s a fabulous teacher,” said Kiwanis member John Duff. “We had the kids give an early proposal in March and invited folks from Central Oregon Irrigation District, the county and city. We tried to be a vehicle for them by getting them in front of people who make decisions (that could forward the project).”
That said, Duff says the club is reviewing the proposal and has made no commitments for funding as yet.
“We’re doing everything we can to support the kids,” he said. “It’s good for them to learn to fight for something they believe in and learn that there are things that can’t be accomplished overnight no matter how good the idea is.”
The students seem to realize that a problem 60 years in the making won’t have a quick fix, but they’re optimistic their plan is solid.
“If all goes as planned the lake should 'cure’ itself eventually,” says Goodpasture.

Want to help?
Fireman’s Lake restoration

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