‘Grow Zones’ Rebuild Ecosystems Along Austin Creeks

AUSTIN, Texas (Feb. 29, 2016) – With the help of volunteers, Austin’s Grow Zone Riparian Restoration Program is restoring the ecosystems along the city’s creeks.

Grow zones are areas where mowing along creeks is halted to allow vegetation to return. Along with ecological benefits, the restored space provides education, recreation and exploration opportunities.

Ana González, an environmental scientist at the city’s Watershed Protection Department, develops methods for restoration and monitors results. In a talk Monday, she encouraged a crowd of more than 30 potential volunteers to help restore creeks to their natural state.

“Putting back is more important than removing,” González said. “If the only thing that’s there is an invasive species, let’s leave it there because it is providing some ecological services.”

In 2012, the program began with 12 pilot grow zone areas. Today, there are 45 zones throughout the city encompassing 184 acres and about 13 miles of creeks, González said.

The program is a division of the watershed department, which monitors progress on measures such as diversity in vegetation, canopy coverage and soil compaction.

In a few grow zones, cameras are used to document change over time from the same vantage points. Bartholomew Grow Zone in Bartholomew District Park is one zone with photo points that showcase the area before and after mowing stopped.

The program is working with an education team and the Adopt-a-Creek program to develop a citizen version of the monitoring protocol. It will be Web-based and provide volunteers with the information and tools needed to collect data.

“There is no way staff will be able to physically be on top of every grow zone. The only way this program can expand is if citizens get on board,” González said.

A program of Keep Austin Beautiful, a local non-profit, Adopt-a-Creek began in 2005. Erin Cord, the program’s community coordinator, does volunteer outreach and trains people how to care for the creeks.

“It kind of started out as trash cleanups, which is still really important,” Cord said in an interview.  “The first step in restoration is just getting rid of all that trash but after that we are trying to get groups to remove invasive species, plant native species, kind of this whole long-term restoration goal.”

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