Christmas trees can serve another purpose beyond keeping homes festive during the holiday season.
Lewis and Clark National Historical Park — inspired by similar efforts along the North Coast — is collecting old Christmas trees at its Colewort Creek restoration site to provide additional habitat for aquatic life, specifically juvenile coho salmon.
Trees will be collected until Jan. 16, when park staff and volunteers will host a work party to place the trees into the creek. The event, known as Cocoa and Coho, is in its third year.
The park collected about 30 trees the first year and 75 trees last year.
Jenny Bell, a biological technician at the park, said the Christmas trees create a huge benefit to the creek’s ecosystem. Once the trees are put into the channels of the creek, within a few days the trees become covered in algae, which attract insects. The insects then attract the salmon.
“It’s this whole ecosystem you end up getting from these trees,” Bell said.
Colewort Creek’s channels have become a juvenile rearing habitat. In the summer, Bell said, she sees young salmon, about 3 inches long, in the creek. It shows her the Christmas tree placement is working. Each tree is beneficial to the ecosystem for about five years.
“This is a place (the salmon) come when they are juveniles to fatten up, and get bigger before heading out into the ocean,” Bell said.
Another benefit is the Christmas trees provide protection for the salmon against predators such as birds and small mammals. The trees also offer shade to help control water temperature.
“The great thing about it is it keeps the trees from going into landfills, and it puts them back into a natural setting,” Bell said.
Restoration efforts at Colewort Creek have been ongoing since 2007. When the park acquired the land, it was an old pasture cut off from the Lewis and Clark River, and salmon populations.
Over time, more native plants began growing back and more aquatic species and wildlife re-emerged.
“It was totally cut off. The salmon could not access this area at all,” Bell said.
The park has tried not to impact the restoration site and allow nature to take over.
In just the past few years, park staff has seen an abundance of waterfowl and frogs.
“This area has changed significantly in the past three years,” Bell said. “There has been a lot of native plants that have voluntarily come in, and just an abundance of wildlife has increased here.”
Park staff and volunteers will be hard to miss during the work party from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. Jan. 16. Many will be wearing Santa hats as they place the trees into a 15-acre portion of the creek.
The drop-off location is on the west side of Fort Clatsop Road between the Visitor Center and Netul Landing. Hot chocolate and gloves will be provided to volunteers, who should prepare to get muddy. All tinsel and ornament must be removed from the trees.
Bell said the best way to place the trees is to wedge a few together and anchor them into the mud using fresh cut willow stakes. It is important to make sure the trees stay put since the creek is influenced by the tides. The water level is always rising and falling.
The Cocoa and Coho event coincides with other efforts in the area. Scouts from Boy Scout troop 642 will be collecting trees at Columbia Bank in Cannon Beach and at the Seaside Outlet Mall from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Jan. 2 and Jan. 3. The collected trees will be placed in various locations by local groups such as the Necanicum Watershed Council, the Lower Nehalem Watershed Council, North Coast Watershed Association and Trout Unlimited.
“They started the whole thing in this region, so we got inspired by that and we brought it here,” Bell said. “It’s a regional effort.”