Homeowners use willows to halt erosion at Lake Helena

Phil Drake

Some cut willows and discarded Christmas trees are getting new life and helping some Lake Helena homeowners keep their property from slipping away.

Two landowners of shoreline along Lake Helena are putting the finishing touches on a project they hope will keep their properties above water.

Jeff Ryan, board chair of the Lewis and Clark Conservation District and district supervisor, said the project, which his agency oversees, includes 14,000 willow branches, all cut by volunteers, and recycled Christmas trees.

He describes it as a “self-healing system,” adding the willow is cut in March when it is dormant, and when put in the soil it forms roots. He said each one of the stems produces a root mass, which he said was like “nature’s glue.” He estimated the projects combined involved 750 feet of shoreline. He added it was funded through grants and also paid for by the property owners.

Willows go dormant in the winter and they were soaked in water for 24 hours to stimulate root growth, conservation district officials said. Coir fabric, a coconut fiber weave, was also used in the planting.

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