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PBS films at Albany Options School

Ecology students from left, Gerald McAlister, Cody Becknal, Matt Susnik and Chance Becknal work on a new bioswale Tuesday morning at Albany Options School. (David Patton/Democrat-Herald)

Fans of nature shows on the Public Broadcasting Service may catch a familiar face or two when “This American Land” begins its third season this fall.

A camera crew visited Albany this week to do a segment on environmental education projects at Albany Options School. The show will be broadcast on public television stations nationwide sometime during the 2013-14 season of the PBS conservation newsmagazine series.

Much of the filming centered on the bioswale AOS ecology students are creating behind the school.

A swale is a low-lying piece of land that’s wet or marshy at least part of the year. A bioswale is a specifically designed landscape that uses native plants to cut down on water pollution.

AOS students are planting sedges, camas, Oregon grape and other varieties of native plants and grasses behind their school to soak up and break down chemical compounds in the runoff from nearby roofs and parking lots.

Help from the city of Albany and Native Grounds Nursery of Brownsville, along with a $500 grant from the Captain Planet Foundation, made the work possible.

The alternative high school moved to 701 19th Ave. S.E. in the fall of 2008. The property has a hollow area in its back lawn where water regularly collects.

The ground is thick, compacted clay, which just doesn’t drain, science teacher Kelly Muller said.

“That’s our pool,” she said wryly, nodding to the puddles that have collected following recent rainstorms. “We’ve actually had ducks in there. And birds taking baths.”

Last fall, Muller and her ecology students did some initial research on creating a “rain garden” in the hollow, but learned that the plants they’d selected wouldn’t fare well. They turned their attention to creating a bioswale instead.

Kim Kagelaris, an environmental services technician with the city of Albany, worked with students on environmental education. The Pacific Northwest Clean Water Association provided rubber boots for the students.

Muller used part of the Captain Planet grant to purchase some of the plants for the bioswale from Native Grounds Nursery. Owner Mike Nehls donated other plants and provided his expertise.

The plants in the AOS bioswale can be deluged with water during Oregon’s soggy winters and springs, and drained of every drop during even exceptionally dry summers, and still grow just fine, Nehls said.

At the same time, they’ll filter any nitrates and phosphates from nearby lawns, and any oil and gas flushed from parking lots around the school and adjacent apartments.

Native Grounds specializes in this type of plant and is glad to help students with environmental education, Nehls said, to “hopefully steer them to some kind of career that’s environmentally minded.”

The PBS show came to Albany because the Captain Planet Foundation recommended the AOS bioswale among its favorite projects, said Marsha Walton, series producer.

The community collaboration factor is especially important, Walton added, because that’s how real environmental change becomes possible. So is bringing in students.

“Getting young people to become conscientious eco-citizens underlies a lot of the things we do,” she said.

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