A voracious vine has invaded the wooded hillside behind Astoria Middle School.
English ivy has crept into the forest, crawled up the slope and cloaked native plants, choking the trees that rely on the sun for photosynthesis.
The fast-growing,, foreign invader is not alone in its destruction of local, natural areas. Scotch broom and holly are also prolific in the woods.
"We have a lot of invasive species around here," said middle school student Tom Bird, 13. "Other plants and animals can't adapt to it."
Today, he and several other middle school classes worked to free the trees from ivy's grasp as part of nonprofit organization SOLV's 11th annual Down by the Riverside.
The statewide event lasts through the weekend, with clean-ups in Seaside and Warrenton, involving thousands of people across Oregon volunteering in more than 360 areas.
In Astoria, a handful of classes have spent the past week picking up litter from trails and learning about the issues local forests face, such as litter, erosion and invasive-species infestation.
Astoria Middle School science instructor Stanette Klatt worked with seventh-graders to identify invasive species, which students will clip and remove from the trail behind their school today.
As attractive as some of the weeds may seem, they crowd out local species to gain an ecological edge in competing for resources.
"If the children are thinking about those species that do not have good PR and thinking about how the forest community is connected, that will help them learn and look at organisms they normally would have stepped over or stepped on," Klatt said.
Another class will spread new bark dust on the trail to replace dirt that has eroded. Others will pick up trash.
Earlier in the week, Lewis and Clark Elementary students hiked Saddle Mountain with teachers and U.S. Coast Guard volunteers to clean up litter and learn about caring for the environment.
"It raised their awareness of trails beyond just our school's nature trail," said teacher Mark Erickson. "We also wanted to note humans' impact. We made a lot of effort to let the kids see where erosion took place and whether it was natural or human-caused."
Today, sixth-grade students will teach Capt. Robert Gray Elementary School kindergartners about recycling, and John Jacob Astor Elementary School students will build birdhouses and picnic tables, cleaning up the community's natural areas.
Schools partnering with SOLV are responsible for more than a third of Down by the Riverside events, said Sarah Ryan, SOLV program coordinator.
"We hope it becomes a lifelong way for students of interacting and of being involved and engaged in their communities," Ryan said. "It's also a great way to learn."
The nonprofit organization offers a curriculum to help teachers link classroom activities to community service in the environment.
"If they're doing hands-on activities, they're more likely to remember things and take it with them than if they're just sitting in a classroom," she said. "It brings real-world relevance and meaning to their lessons."
For a full list of events or to register as a volunteer, visit (http://www.solv.org/programs/down_by_the_riverside.asp). For more information, contact the Down by the Riverside team at (800) 333-SOLV.