On its annual tribute for Martin Luther King Day, students at Thurgood Marshall Middle School from the 6th, 7th, and 8th grades volunteered throughout Olympia on Friday, January 13 to plant native trees and ground cover at Cooper Crest.
It was a rainy day, but armed with lunches (quickly stowed away), shovels, pickaxes, pitchforks, and wheelbarrows, 150 student volunteers got to work in garden gloves and galoshes.
The student body was led by students who are members of the Citizen Science Institute (CSI), a three-year district-wide environmental stewardship and civic engagement program based at Marshall Middle School.
CSI is an academically challenging program in which students become Citizen Scientists, who become involved across a spectrum of hands-on and theoretical issues.
CSI students not only plant native plants but also grow them throughout the year in a nursery at the school.
The kids arrived in the morning, ready to help restore Cooper Crest. Teachers were on-hand, and a school nurse attended to assist with lunchtime diabetic issues for some students and to be available for any needed first aid.
Background on Cooper Crest
Cooper Crest was previously a legacy forest near the school, with a substantial tree canopy. Although it is adjacent to Green Cove Creek, a high-quality salmon spawning area, it was purchased for development in 2016.
Development did not take place, however, and Cooper Crest was logged in 2022, then put up for sale again.
As explained by OlyEcosystems volunteer Robert Barnes, “The logging here was actually approved by the Department of Natural Resources. Unfortunately, their comment period ended after the logging was finished.
Barnes is a retired landscape architect who works as a volunteer and contractor for OlyEcosystems, but also provides some native plants for restoration areas from his own nursery, as well. He also works closely with the CSI program at Marshall Middle School.
“OlyEcosystems quickly managed to purchase the property afterward, in order to re-forest and restore the habitat. This is really an important area because the property is adjacent to Cooper Crest creek, down below [pointing], a prime salmon habitat, said Barnes.”
Olympia Coalition for Ecosystems Preservation (OlyEcosystems), planned and directed the activity, with the help of Marshall Middle School, CSI, Twin Star Credit Union, Thurston County Conservation District, Native Plant Salvage, and others in the community.
Organized in 2014, OlyEcosystems leads the community in ecosystem preservation, with projects protecting urban wilderness. In addition to Cooper Crest, other protection projects include the habitat for the local great blue heron colony, West Bay Woods, and Green Cove Creek. It is part of a larger community movement to foster healthy places and people. As an example, a project that immediately preceded this group’s organization was the West Central Park Project, providing a neighborhood common space.
President of the Board of Directors Sarah Hamman talked about their work of land acquisition and restoration of property in and around Olympia, “We hope to create accessible green spaces and functional wildlife habitats.
“We also want to generate educational and research opportunities with personal connections to the land for community members. Ecological restoration is a long-term commitment.
“We believe strongly that it is best done with and for the community to generate the best outcomes. We also believe that engaging students in restoration is an excellent way to connect them with these places and build an ethic around land stewardship.”
Members from the OlyEcosystem leadership team volunteering for the day with Sarah, included: Heather Grob (Board Treasurer), Marijean Holland (Board member), Gabe Taylor (Board Secretary and Restoration Committee Chair,) and Daniel Einstein, Ph.D. (Land Conservation Director).
A Day of Planting
Volunteers worked to plant 1,700 native specimens across 20 acres and mulch any trees previously planted. Daniel Einstein drove a front loader, delivering mulch throughout the property. “
Mulching is very important”, stated volunteer Daniel Einstein, “, especially with the soil depth in this area so uneven. Einstein’s assistant, Clay, explained that spots of porous earth are adjacent to spots of an impermeable material throughout.
“And over the acreage”, Einstein pointed out, “one finds both high and low water tables. Did you see random puddles throughout the property for no apparent reason? Those are indications of a high water table.”
Einstein went on to explain how both soils and water tables are factors in the property’s healing process and restoration.
Hazard trees, left by the loggers, were marked with caution tape, as was a bed of plants.
Caroline Slagle, an Environmental Studies graduate student from The Evergreen State College who is also a para-educator at the school, said, “This [indicating the bed of plants sectioned off] is an area of knotweed which is aggressive and highly invasive. It is difficult to eradicate. We are dealing with this patch separately.”
This writer walked the property, observing the work and listening to students and other volunteers resolve the challenges of proper planting and mulching. Some students were more cheerful than others but each plant planted was admired as a small success.
One adult volunteer, an experienced older gardener, gave instruction to a small group of student scientists. He encouraged them to keep an eye out for native plants trying to peek at the sky and reemerge from the logging debris.
“Clear away whatever is keeping them down,” he said. “The plants already here are the ones that have the best chance of survival.” And he gave another, of several, tips of the day: Always dig your hole three times larger than your root ball!
Shirley Stirling, of Lacey, writes about good things people in Thurston County are doing. If you’d like to nominate someone to be profiled, contact her at shirley@theJOLTnews.com or comment below.
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