OTTAWA — A fallen tree lay alongside the Blanchard River on Saturday morning. It blocked any boats from launching into the water from Arrowhead Park.
Within a few hours, sawdust in the grass was the only memory. Volunteers organized by the Blanchard River Watershed Partnership used chain saws, string trimmers and sometimes brute force to clear up a stretch of the river’s bank near the park on the western edge of Ottawa.
“We’re just hitting a little percentage of what needs to be done,” said Tim Macke, a village councilman who spent his morning working with a chain saw. “We need more widespread use of cover props, conservation tillage, that kind of thing to really protect this river.”
Friday night’s deluge of rain altered the volunteers’ plans. Instead of focusing on trash removal along the Blanchard and its tributary, Tawa Run, they switched to knocking down overgrown areas with tools brought out by Croy’s Mowing. An overcast morning may have chipped away at the number of volunteers, but the dozen hearty souls there said they enjoyed helping out.
“What kid doesn’t like to go play down by the river?” said Eric Siefker, of Ottawa, who brought his 5-year-old son, Elliott, to help. “We thought he could come out, help and learn a few things.”
One of those lessons could be what an effect grass clippings have, said Phil Martin, the watershed coordinator for the Blanchard River Watershed Partnership. Some people dump their grass clippings along the river, or they end up there when they blow into the street and end up in the stormwater system.
“I’ve actually had people tell me it’s good because it holds the banks. The problem with grass clippings is they’re full of phosphorous,” Martin said. “For every bushel of green grass clippings that gets into the water, that will actually grow 30 to 40 pounds of algae in the river or in the lake.”
Martin said clearing trees has some effect on flooding in the flood-prone village. Arrowhead Park itself is the result of flooding, as the 2008 flood damaged a trailer park that once stood there.
The bigger issue, he said, is a declining amount of organic material in the ground. That keeps the ground from absorbing as much water as it once would.
“If everybody does just a little bit,” Macke said, “it will take care of a lot of problems.”