SOS students spruce up Eagle River |

SOS students spruce up Eagle River

Melanie Wong
Special to the Daily
Vail, CO Colorado
CVR willow wattles KA 10-16-10

EDWARDS, Colorado – Early Saturday morning, when many were still on their first cups of coffee, 10-year-old Joe Kurtz was working on the banks of the Eagle River, cutting and bundling willow branches twice his height.

“We’re restoring the willows on the Eagle River and trying to stop erosion,” the Edwards resident explained, tying up the plant bundles, or “willow wattles” to be replanted along the banks.

Kurtz was one of 50 Eagle County youth volunteering with SOS Outreach, an Avon-based youth nonprofit that works to build character and self-esteem in at-risk children through adventure sports. The group spent the day working with the Eagle River Watershed Council to restore the sparse banks with vegetation and return the river to its natural state before erosion took its toll.

Currently the banks are like sheer cliffs because of overgrazing by sheep and cattle, said Scott Conklin of the Eagle River Watershed Council.

The work will help narrow the river and prevent some of the flooding that occurs in the area, as well as make it a better environment for fish and other wildlife to live.

“It’s going to look a lot more lovely (when the work is done),” Kurtz said. “It’ll be a lot more natural. This is hard work, but it’s worth it.”

This is the second year that the students have teamed up to work at the river. Students in the SOS program participate in multi-week snowboard or skiing programs and learn about leadership values from adult mentors. However, another important part of the program is that the students learn to give back to the community in community service projects such as this, said Michelle Hartel, SOS Outreach’s program director.

“These projects help empower our students to make a difference in their community by practicing compassion and integrity,” she said. “They get really excited because it’s an opportunity for them to see the difference they can make even at a young age.”

Avon volunteer Alex Saenz, 15, who is in his second year in SOS, said he’s found the community service projects rewarding. He participated in previous projects such as trash pick ups and helping make Salvation Army holiday baskets.

“It’s great that SOS brings us out here to have us work instead of only meeting on the mountain (to snowboard),” he said. “This is a chance for kids to learn about the environment and how it works, and you’re helping your community.”

Melanie Wong is development manager for SOS Outreach.

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