Obsidian Preservation Project

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The Obsidian Preservation Project was a community-driven seed collection and re-vegetation project at degraded campgrounds in a highly used Limited Entry Area of the Three Sisters Wilderness. This pioneering recovery project, implemented between 2004 and 2007, expanded stewardship efforts to sustain ecological diversity in the Obsidian Falls region of the Three Sisters Wilderness Area and acted as a model program involving communities to reduce the human impacts of recreational uses in Wilderness Areas across the nation.

Goals for this project included the following:

  • To restore species composition, function and structure and enhance genetic diversity at two human-impacted campgrounds in the Obsidian Falls Region of the Three Sisters Wilderness Area in Oregon’s Willamette National Forest through partnerships with the McKenzie Ranger District, McKenzie School District, and regional volunteer organizations.
  • To establish corridors between viable plant communities in Whitebranch Creek and Sunshine Meadows campsites and surrounding intact ecosystems by redirecting visitors to less-impacted areas within the Obsidian Falls region.
  • To test and monitor feasibility of project’s success for use at degraded habitats in other Congressionally designated sub-alpine and alpine wilderness areas.

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Project Partners

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WRP began its partnership with the McKenzie Ranger District in July 2004 to initiate the preliminary steps towards monitoring and restoring both Whitebranch Creek and Sunshine Meadows campsites. WRP staff received private grant funding to work with the district botanist on preparing a seed collection protocol for the Obsidian Falls region. With approval from the McKenzie Ranger District Lead Wilderness Ranger, WRP botanists visited the region on four occasions to document timing and suitable habitats for collection. The baseline data targeted specific forb and graminoid species for collection, propagation, and transplanting in both campsites.

The McKenzie Ranger District also agreed to provide support in material/equipment costs for the project through 2008. They committed to install a sign at the Obsidian Trailhead explaining the campsite restoration project and bigger temporary signs at the campsites to discourage trail users from using the campsites.

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Our approach for 2005-06 was to find and collect suitable native species that would stabilize and restore the native plant communities historically present at both sites. WRP gained additional partners for the project in 2006. Middle and high school students from McKenzie High School and students from the Network Charter School (NCS), an alternative school for at-risk youth, volunteered in cleaning and sowing seeds in plug trays in 2006. In September 2006, students joined WRP in taking cuttings and collecting seeds in the Obsidian Falls region. Many participating students had never hiked that far into a wilderness area (or had even been to a wilderness area) and found it empowering to take part in a restoration project at such a pristine and remote region. We brought students back to the Obsidian region in fall 2007 to transplant seedlings in the Whitebranch Creek campsite.

WRP also received helpful support from the Backcountry Horsemen of Oregon, who graciously horse-packed our seedling trays up to the restoration sites in the fall.

The documented success of this project, along with community support and youth participation, ultimately aided in expanding the recovery of impacted campsites and trail systems within the Three Sisters Wilderness.

WRP thanks the following for their support of the Obsidian Preservation Project:

Mazamas Foundation
Mountaineers Foundation
National Forest Foundation
REI
McKenzie Ranger District, USFS
Phil King, Backcountry Horsemen of Oregon
Network Charter School
McKenzie High School