Willamette River Initiative

Willamette River Initiative

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Appreciating those who care for our river

Kelly House's picture
By Kelly House - March 10, 2017

For the people behind the muddy, demanding physical labor to restore the Willamette River Basin’s floodplain forests, a typical day goes like this:

Wake up hours before dawn and get dressed in waterproof clothing from head-to-toe. You will almost certainly be working in the rain.

Drive to “the cooler,” a massive refrigeration facility near Salem, to load your truck with a few thousand cottonwoods, dogwoods, thimbleberries and other native Willamette Valley trees and shrubs. You’ll spend the day planting them across hundreds of acres, preparing a future forest where native Oregon fish and wildlife will thrive.

Just after sunrise, you’ll arrive at the riverside farm or public park where you’ll be planting today. If winter rains have flooded the access road, you’ll need to lug all those plants into the site on foot. Unwrap the twine that secures each brown paper parcel of bare-root saplings, drop a few dozen into your knapsack, and start digging holes.

The best planters have a strong back and a distinct rhythm to their work.


An experienced worker can put more than 1,000 saplings into the ground in a single day. By the end of the winter planting season, Meyer grantees will have planted more than half-a-million native trees and shrubs this year along the Willamette River and its tributaries.

The planting is just one facet of a massive, basin-wide effort to achieve meaningful, measurable improvement in the health of Oregon’s largest and most heavily-populated watershed with support from Meyer’s Willamette River Initiative. Since its inception in 2008, the initiative has awarded some $14 million in grants to fund restoration as well as science, advocacy and organizational capacity for groups working on the river.

Learn more about the Initiative, including profiles of some of the projects we’ve supported, here. And if you come across a planting crew during your next nature walk, be sure to thank them for their work.