Edmonds-Woodway High junior Max Pearson has been working up a sweat with other teen Student Conservation Association recruits this summer.
“I like being outside a lot,” he said. “I feel it’s better to do a job that helps the environment and save the planet than do some retail job.”
Pearson was part of the last crew of SCA students that spent a week working to remove invasive blackberries and other vegetation from the Washington Park Arboretum; there were two other crews before that. He participated in the SCA program last year, but that work was contained to city parks.
“This work, it feels like I’m making a bigger difference,” Pearson said.
The students made the first dent in what will be an 18-month effort to clear invasive vegetation and enhance collections belonging to the University of Washington along the Lake Washington Boulevard and new Arboretum Loop Trail corridors, which is being funded by a gift to the Arboretum Foundation.
UW Botanic Gardens horticulture manager David Zuckerman said a portion of a $275,000 donation from a longtime friend of the Arboretum went toward purchasing a flail mower, which can “chew up” blackberry bushes.
“With SCA here, after they mow, they’re able to go after the root crown,” he said.
SCA team leader Quena Batres has spent two Americorps tours with an environmental nonprofit prior to her work with SCA. She worked with high schoolers from Edmonds and Lynnwood on the restoration efforts in early August.
“A lot of them have never done this work before,” she said, “and a lot of them didn’t have an interest necessarily in environmental work when they started.”
On top of the restoration work they performed at the arboretum, the SCA students helped build trail structures at Heather Lake Trail near the Mountain Loop Highway, Batres said.
Every Friday is set aside for an educational field trip, including kayaking on the Duwamish River to learn about a superfund site and a tour of the Bullitt Center, a green commercial building in Capitol Hill. Pearson said the educational days show them what can be accomplished with greater resources.
Zuckerman said it will be imperative to have a summer crew back next year to make sure the restoration work doesn’t lose ground. SCA had a two-week trial run with UW and Seattle Parks and Recreation last summer, and participates in an annual Earth Day cleanup at the arboretum.
“Most restoration fails because there’s no maintenance backup,” he said.
Once the sections of the corridors are cleared, they are covered with 3-4 inches of mulch, said Derek Allen, one of three new gardeners hired with the gift and a recent graduate of UW’s Masters of Environmental Horticulture program. He will be on the project the entire 18-month term.
“After that, we let it cook for a couple of months, and then, when the rain comes trickling in, that’s kind of our planting window,” Allen said.
There will also be invasives removals along the east side of Lake Washington Boulevard, from the Gateway to Chile to the south end of Azalea Way.
Zuckerman said the expectation is that new native plants can be planted this fall, and his hope is to recruit Capstone students from UW to assist with that effort.
A portion of the funds from the gift are being used by Seattle Parks and Recreation for noxious weeds and invasives management at the wetlands created along the new Loop Trail, and Applied Ecology has been hired on through the end of the year, according to the Arboretum Foundation.