Future planners gain practical experience in the field

Thirteen Southern Oregon University students didn't just study theories in land use planning &

they lived it.

For months they muddied their boots on soggy soil and snagged jackets on blackberry vines while studying and mapping Ashland's smaller creeks &

all in an effort to help city planners with potential wetland and riparian ordinance changes.

Associate professor of geography, Pat Acklin, approached Ashland Community Development Director Bill Molnar about a hands-on class project her students could tackle for the city.

"Right away he suggested mapping the smaller creeks in town," she said.

Molnar said the city has quite a bit of information on the larger creeks, such as Bear and Ashland creeks. But that the smaller waterways haven't been studied in quite a while.

"We need general information on those creeks," he said. "That's required by the state if there are going to be any ordinance changes."

The students broke into groups of four and studied canopy coverage, riparian vegetation and noted invasive plants and erosion problems on Beach, Cemetery, Clay, Hamilton and Roca creeks.

They also documented creek locations and widths with Global Positioning System equipment and took digital photos.

Acklin said planning staff should receive all of the data collected by the students by mid June. Molnar said the information would probably also be available on the city's Web site.

Molnar said he acknowledges that the students aren't experts, but that they provided lots of information the city would not have had otherwise. He also pointed out that the information could alert planning staff to riparian areas that need attention.

Most of the 13 students also presented their findings at a recent planning commission meeting.

Environmental studies student Tracey Dolezal-Jensen, 43, of Medford, described standing in front of planning commissioners, planning staff and being filmed by RVTV as a "nerve-wracking experience."

"But they were all so nice. It went pretty smoothly," said the mother of four who hopes to become a land use planner in the future.

Dolezal-Jensen said the hands-on class project was the most beneficial class she's taken at SOU.

"We went out and studied in the field and then presented it to a planning commission," she said. "This is exactly what a planner will do in her career. For me, it was just an amazing experience."

Reach reporter at 482-3456 x226 or .

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