On a recent sunny Saturday morning, dozens of students and volunteers were busy squishing through mud, shoveling mulch into buckets to carry down a flight of wooden stairs and then laying it on a footpath winding down towards the heart of Bothell’s North Creek Forest.
The group, composed of members of the organization Friends of North Creek Forest (FONCF) and students from the University of Washington Bothell’s Restoration Ecology Network (REN) are working to restore a quarter-acre patch of hillside. Restoration involves removing invasive species such as blackberry bushes and building up the hillside to prevent mudslides.
“It’s been pretty clean and healthy, and with all the restoration we’ve been doing, it’ll stay that way,” said FONCF Vice President David Bain.
FONCF was formed in 2011 as an environmental action group dedicated to preserving the North Creek Forest as a state park, protecting it from development.
At that time, FONCF Executive Director Emily Sprong said, the 64-acre forest was privately owned, but through working with the city of Bothell, state and private agencies, they were able to raise funds to purchase 42 acres as a park. At the Bothell State of the City address on Jan. 13, city manager Bob Stowe said the city had secured $2.6 million to purchase the remaining parcels.
“Our ongoing role is to steward the forest,” Sprong said.
During the past five years, students from the University of Washington’s three campuses in Seattle, Bothell and Tacoma have been actively restoring portions of the forest, providing students real-world application to classwork.
Students from the REN program conduct an eight month long capstone project where they restore pieces of the forest before turning it over to FONCF to preserve.
“I think we all have an interest in restoration,” said REN student Eric Carpenter.
The forest sits adjacent to restored wetland on the UW Bothell and Cascadia College’s campus, which has not escaped UW Bothell’s REN Director Warren Gold’s notice during the past half-decade.
“It’s an opportunity that I never got as a student, to take what you’re learning and apply it,” he said.
The impacts of preserving a healthy North Creek Forest ripples all the way out to Puget Sound and beyond, Bain said, who is also a killer whale biologist.
Tributaries to the North Creek stream run through the forest, with the stream itself cutting through the UW Bothell campus and feeds into the Sammamish River.
These tributaries provide a vital source of cool ground water for the stream, and the forest’s wetlands help filter toxins from runoff water and absorb rainwater.
Cool water temperatures and clean water are necessary for healthy salmon runs, which have been dramatically diminishing for decades in the Sammamish River and north Lake Washington.
Salmon are also resident killer whale pods’ favorite food in Puget Sound. Their numbers have been diminishing in recent years.
“The killer whales are dying a death of a thousand cuts, and so the solution to that is a thousand bandages,” Bain said, saying the North Creek Forest preservation as one of many small ‘bandages’ which could help strong salmon runs return.
Students in the REN program, Gold said, take these impacts into consideration during their projects.
“What they put in has to have a vision for what type of environment they want to provide,” he said. “(We’re) hoping that through time, this will develop into a self-sustaining ecosystem.”
FONCF has won a wide range of environmental grants, notably landing three Land and Water Conservation Fund Grants which Bain said are only awarded to around five percent of applicants.
The forest also provides a resource to students of all ages, with elementary students from as far away as Lynnwood and Marysville busing in to check out the park. All of the Northshore School District schools are within 12 miles of the forest too, Sprong said.
Many of FONCF’s volunteers are from the neighborhoods adjacent to the forest, Sprong said, and they understand the ecological impact of forest preservation.
Upcoming restoration events are open to anyone, Sprong said, happening on Jan. 30 and Feb. 6 starting at 10 a.m.
“The legacy of this forest is going to be awesome,” Bain said.