Volume X | Issue 1 | Spring 2010
Leadership class members and volunteers come together to plant the bioswale in Port Orford.

'taking care of the water’

Leadership Program class researches, plans and builds three bioswales

Participants in the north Curry County Ford Institute Leadership Program class of Fall 2008 faced a bit of a challenge as they tossed around possibilities for their class project. They wanted something that put their newly learned skills to use while benefiting all three of the towns represented: Gold Beach, Port Orford and Langlois. 

They finally settled on a winner: bioswales, or constructed landscape features that remove silt and pollution from runoff water. And not just one bioswale, but three—one in each coastal community. That way, class members figured, everyone would have the opportunity to be involved in design, planting and maintenance. The bioswales would be highly visible from Highway 101, would teach people something new, and would be a “green” project that demonstrated the importance of taking care of the water.

The concept may be simple, but the reality? Not so much.

“We have an active near-shore fishery for salmon, tuna and crab,” says class member Harry Hoogesteger, “and we wanted to make the point that all of our water, clean or otherwise, ends up in the near-shore ocean—and we eat things from the sea.”

The concept behind a bioswale is simple: the swale, basically a shallow drainage ditch, is planted with selected vegetation to help filter the slowly moving water before it is absorbed into the sand and eventually, the ocean.

The concept may be simple, but the reality? Not so much. “It was very complicated and took a great deal of planning,” says Donna Chickering, who served as a trainer for the leadership class. “There were some frustrating moments, but for the most part they all hung in there.”

The 23 class members concluded their classroom training in November 2008, and spent nearly all of the next year researching, planning for and designing the three bioswales. Construction and planting was done in October of 2009.

“It was a crazy challenge and we didn’t shy away from it,” says Hoogesteger, who appreciated the challenges more than most—his day job is program coordinator for the South Coast Watershed Council. “Some people put in literally hundreds of hours, when we had committed to just 20.”


“There were many times when the work ahead seemed monumental,” says class member Ann Vileisis. “Different people had different styles of working—some were very casual and low key; others of us were planners, wanting to get all the i’s dotted and t’s crossed. The clash of expectations and styles was at times very stressful.”

The process was complex. To design the Gold Beach bioswale, for example, class members had to seek approval from and collaborate with the Gold Beach City Council, Gold Beach Public Works and the South Coast Watersheds. The bioswale, a 12’x80’ shallow depression, was excavated in the center of the Visitors Center Parking lot and planted with more than 700 native plants.

The other two bioswales are at Battle Rock City Park in Port Orford and at the library in Langlois.

“The most important thing I learned is that different people bring very different skills to a project, so if you can tap the full range of skills, you can really accomplish a lot,” Vileisis says. “Orchestrating all the different people remains the big challenge, but the possibility is definitely there. I feel like we got a good sense of that possibility in our training—and we managed to do a pretty good job at it.”  

“The class may have lasted four months, but the relationship will last a lifetime,” Hoogesteger says. “When we see each other among the three communities, there is an instant bond and an instant understanding of how can we help each other.” 

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