GENOA - Dozens of kids scrambled along the banks of the Carson River early Saturday morning, hauling 15-foot-long bundles of cut willows for reasons they didn't even know yet.
But teamwork made short work of moving 3,000 willows upstream to a severely eroded bank, where Dan Kaffer explained why the willows will be so important to the future of the river.
The slender, water-loving trees, once the young volunteers partly bury them in the moist river bank, would sprout again and weave their roots into a stabilizing mat that will help keep the bank in place the next time the Carson River floods, Kaffer explained to the youngsters and adult volunteers at the fifth Conserve the Carson River Workday for Douglas County.
He had the volunteers turn around and look at the water stains on the Willowbend Road home behind them, where the Carson River flooded over the windowsills in 1997. The same flood cut the bank of the river back some 20 feet, carving into the yard and toppling a huge cottonwood that still lies rotting in the river.
Besides planting willows to preserve the bank and reduce sediment problems, volunteers installed bat and bird boxes to encourage insect-eating fliers to nest along the river, planted about 500 Lahontan cutthroat trout, seeded eight varieties of grasses and wrapped tree-trunks in chicken wire to discourage beavers.
As they worked, leaders like Jane Schmidt of the Natural Resource Conservation Service explained how each project would help protect the river and, in turn, the quality of life people and wildlife along the length of the Carson River.
"When a kid comes out and plants a tree along the river, he takes some ownership or it," Kaffer said later. "You know he's not going to be littering or polluting here."
Kaffer is a coordinator for Western Nevada Resource Conservation and Development, a non-profit corporation made up of water and conservation districts and county and tribal governments in the Carson, Walker and Truckee river watersheds. He said the annual conversation work days bring together individual and organization volunteers from across state and local boundaries, from the Carson headwaters in Alpine County through Douglas County, Carson City, Lyon County and into the Lahontan wetlands in Churchill County.
"With these projects, we're reclaiming the river from the mistakes of the past, building with our present knowledge and effort to improve the river and surrounding environment for the future," Kaffer said.
Kevin Schaller of Genoa was out helping the youngsters Saturday. As he stood on the bank, he could look across the river to his home. The house stood about only 18 inches above the water in the 1997 flood, he said.
Among the volunteers were several from Teens of the Future, a Douglas County group that involves youngsters in community service. Those who complete 100 hours earn a half-credit toward the high school diploma. Other kids and adults were from scouting and church groups.
About 20 groups from clubs to local, state and federal agencies contribute to or participate in the annual project. That included a crew of women inmates from the Silver Springs conservation camp who cut the willows and boys from the china Springs Youth Camp who dug trenches along the banks for the willows.
A similar work day was held along the river in Carson City last month. Saturday projects in the Dayton and Fallon areas will be announced soon, Kaffer said.