Northshore shovel-ready students learn by working in North Creek Forest

Residents can talk about forest restoration, read about water quality and study ecology in a classroom.

By Douglas Esser

Special to the Reporter

Residents in Bothell and Kenmore can talk about forest restoration, read about water quality and study ecology in a classroom. However, those who are serious have to get their boots muddy.

Seven shovel-ready Northshore School District teens showed their commitment on a cold and rainy winter Saturday by digging in to Bothell’s North Creek Forest.

They grabbed shovels, shears and rakes to battle blackberry vines and eradicate the thorny invasive plants all the way down to their stubborn roots.

Jasmine Feola, Kynan Rutan, Komal Kukunuru and Caitlin Short from Bothell High School; Shannon Hong and Erin Gallagher from Inglemoor; Ila Sharma, who attends Tesla STEM High School in Redmond; and one Inglemoor student who couldn’t make that day, Sandy Cheng, are “L-wippers.”

The eight are the first Bothell cohort of the Lake Washington Watershed Internship Program (LWWIP). The University of Washington Bothell is hosting this extension of Bellevue’s Mercer Slough Environmental Education Center. The program is funded by an Institute for Museum and Library Science grant with support from the Pacific Science Center, including teen programs supervisor Ian Schooley and environmental educator Charity Villines.

“We like to focus on the issues of this exact place, and a lot these kids live just over the hill or around the corner. They are observing their natural surroundings all the time,” said Schooley, who uses spare time in the forest to teach the students how to recognize different species of trees and ferns. The tiny licorice fern growing on the mossy side of tree supposedly has a licorice taste, he said.

UW Bothell provides meeting space and connections. It linked the L-wippers to the North Creek Forest and mentors in the UW Restoration Ecology Network, which gives University seniors capstone projects in restoring green spaces and building environmental knowledge in a community. It’s a valuable partnership, said Warren Gold, UW Bothell associate professor and director of the UW-wide network.

“UW-REN students become teachers and mentors – and there is rarely a better way to really learn material and develop a deep understanding than to have to teach it to inquisitive young students,” Gold said. “The mentoring partnership also energizes and inspires our undergrads to think critically about their work and to be sure to have fun – something that can be in short supply on cold, rainy days in the forest.”

It was that kind of day on Feb. 4 when Wendy Prather and several other UW Restoration Ecology Network students welcomed the teens’ help in the 64-acre forest near the University. It recently became the property of the City of Bothell through the work of the community organization Friends of North Creek Forest. Work is underway to restore it and add park improvements such as trails.

It was nice to have the teen volunteers “understand what it means to restore a damaged area” and also the “extra hands to get going on it,” said Prather, a UW Bothell senior in environmental science. The other UW Bothell student on the North Creek Forest team is Michael Groves, a third-year student, also majoring in environmental science.

Schooley said his L-wippers also will gather water quality data on North Creek in the campus wetland where they’ve watched in awe as thousands of crows fly to their roost.

The program runs through the end of the school year in June, but it’s designed to start with sophomores who work together for three years.

“They end up creating community that really is theirs. We set it up, but at the end of day it’s their community where they can get together and geek out together about nature,” says Schooley. “They’re not only sharing the importance of a mature forest but working to restore it as well.”

Douglas Esser is a communications specialist with the University of Washington Bothell.