Virgin River Coalition organizes ‘RiverWalk’ event

By CHERYL JENSEN

Progress

A group gathered at Hafen Park in Mesquite for a River-Walk guided by biologist Mike Swink. Photo by Cheryl Jensen

As part of Mesquite Days, a special “RiverWalk” activity took place on Saturday morning May 7th. Sponsored by the Town of Mesquite and the Virgin River Coalition, the event kicked off in Hafen Park. The informative nature hike was led by biologist Mike Swink.

As the crowd walked along the trail leading to the river, Swink spoke of the vegetation and birds that call the area home.

“The Virgin River is a beautiful river with a diversity of habitats due to the canopy of native trees and plants and understory for nesting areas,” Swink said.

Fremont poplars are part of that canopy, Swink added. In addition to this, Coyote’s and Gooding’s willows with their furrowed gray bark and silky gray leaves can reach 4 to 5 feet tall, forming dense growing areas. Plants with short arrows add to the undergrowth. Swink also pointed to the blooming Mesquite Screwbean trees with their sharp thorns.

“All of these support the many varied bird species such as summer tanger, Gambel’s quail, mourning doves and Lucy’s warbler,” Swink said. “Other birds include the red-winged blackbirds and the northern rough-winged swallows that make a sound when taking off in flight that almost sounds like a song.”

Swink noted that there are five species of swallows that live along the river, including cliff swallows that live under the Riverside Bridge. Bells Vireo can also be heard with his sometimes piercing chem.

“There are so many calls it’s like a musical performance,” Swink said. “And if you go there early in the morning, you can count the number of different species thanks to the many songs of the birds. Birds use their song to define their territory and call their mates.

The river is a dynamic system with water flow changing with the seasons and the amount of rain and snowmelt, Swink said. He pointed out that when the flow is lower, sandbars form and vegetation settles on the small “islands”. Then the river bed changes.

“This area has incredible diversity between wildlife living near the river, and then ten miles away the wildlife and vegetation are so different that the elevation reaches 8,000 feet,” Swink said.

The Virgin River Coalition is working with the BLM, Mesquite Irrigation Company, City of Mesquite and Clark County on the Lower Virgin River Integrated Watershed Project. They sponsor clean-up days along the river. With a state grant, they are also working on contactless pollution by helping people become aware that debris can be transported far from where it is thrown. They also work to remove invasive species and restore native plants and trees along the Virgin River.

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Joseph K. Bennett