Thursday, December 16, 2010

Gettin' muddy

When you spend your days organizing volunteer projects for others, it's fun, once in a while, to step away from the computer screen and get dirty yourself. Not just help with one of your own projects -- but chip in on a project organized by other people, to which you have no investment other than your own choice to be there.

I had such an opportunity yesterday. And yes, I got dirty, and yes, it was fun!

Crew leaders from the Nisqually
Tribe helped us out
The 4th graders of Eatonville Elementary School arranged to help with native planting on Nisqually Land Trust land in Ohop Valley, just north of town along Mountain Highway. If you've driven Highway 7 recently you'll know the spot, where the road dips down into a narrow, flat-bottomed valley with a meandering stream, then climbs back up past the turnoff to Eatonville. The stream, wandering through a valley filled with mudflow debris from Mount Rainier, was once prime salmon habitat, but had been channelized by farming over the years. Today, the Nisqually River Council, a coalition that includes the Nisqually Tribe, has "re-meandered" the stream, installed engineered log jams, and planted hundreds of native plants with the help of volunteers.

Sheila Wilson explains good
planting techniques
Enter the 4th graders! In November, Sheila Wilson, Program Coordinator for the Nisqually River Education Project, visited classes at Eatonville Elementary to explain the work--why they were doing what they were doing, and what role trees and other ground cover played in improving habitat for fish (creating shade and woody debris, slowing the water and creating pools where trees fall, anchoring the soil and preventing erosion). She prepared the class for what was to come, so when they got out in the field with their boots and gloves they'd know they were making a difference.

The original project date was November 22, which anyone local will remember as the day of the big pre-Thanksgiving snowstorm. My wife had that day off and was set to help, "rain or shine." But the planners hadn't counted on a foot of snow and sub-freezing windchill, so the date was rescheduled to December 15, a date more suitable for my own schedule. Heavy rain over the past week caused the creek to overflow its banks, and it looked initially like we might be planting in more rain, but the morning dawned partly sunny and the weather held throughout the day.

But still, it was muddy. Wet. Soggy. Goopy. Mushy. Sloppy. Perfect for 4th graders! Due to bus schedules we had less than two hours to actually spend out in the valley, learning how to dig holes and plant wild roses, bigleaf maples, alders, Douglas-firs, and several other species. The kids did most of the work themselves, while crew leaders from the Nisqually Tribe roamed around with the rest of us chaperones, helping out wherever needed and making sure the trees were planted with proper care. The kids had a terrific time, and it was clear that the adults did too.

It's a great example of a project that probably could have been done much more quickly and easily by the team of professional planters. But the Tribe elected, instead, to engage local elementary school kids and their parents, to get their feet wet (literally), to plant their own roots in the project along with those of the trees. For all of us who worked in Ohop Valley yesterday, that spot is now "ours," and we will be watching "our" plants grow over the years to come as we drive by. We'll be watching for the salmon to return. When people wonder what on earth is going on down there along the highway, we'll be able to tell them. For the investment of a few hours of time, the Nisqually Land Trust now will have dozens of advocates in the community.

And I'm happy to be one of them!

1 comment:

Leonidovich said...

It's very good that children walking on the Nature instead of sitting near computers.