Wednesday, August 8, 2018

Boots on the ground: Touring WCC projects across the state

From the peaks of the Olympic Mountains to the fields of Eastern Washington, our 53 (six-member) Washington Conservation Corps crews and 14 Individual Placement AmeriCorps members complete hundreds of restoration and habitat enhancement projects annually. Join us on a spin around the state to learn more about a few of the projects our AmeriCorps members have contributed to this year!

Assessing smolt traps along Padden Creek in North Puget Sound

This spring, WCC AmeriCorps members serving the City of Bellingham started checking smolt traps along Padden Creek - in some long-awaited sunshine! Several years ago, the City of Bellingham helped re-route – or “daylight” – a portion of Padden Creek that once ran through a tunnel. The project has helped restore fish passage, improve water quality, and reduce flood risks for nearby residents. Members played a key role in kicking off the planting phase of the city project, installing more than 15,000 native plants and ensuring freshly planted shrubs survived their first spring.

A supervisor measures a fish at a smolt trap in a creek, while three AmeriCorps members assist.
WCC AmeriCorps members and supervisor Paul Argites team up
to record data at a smolt trap along Padden Creek. Photo by Mitch Metcalf.
In addition, our restoration crews are often involved in installing and gathering data from smolt traps – structures in a stream that help measure the quantity of juvenile fish moving through a waterway. Members also conduct stream surveys and take photos using previously installed photo points.

Data from smolt traps along Padden Creek show how juvenile salmonids are using the creek following the 2015 daylighting project. On a single spring day, members recorded more than 400 juvenile fish in the traps.

Restoring the Klickitat River in Eastern Washington

In fall 2017, ten AmeriCorps members serving in Eastern Washington spent two weeks transporting and planting native trees and shrubs along a four-mile stretch of Klickitat River that provides habitat for threatened salmon and steelhead. Our members transported native plants as much as four miles a day by foot, planting 6,098 native trees and shrubs along the river.

Since the project required long hikes to reach planting sites, members learned about project preparation as well as proper techniques for planting in difficult, rocky soil.  

“Our days consisted of de-potting plants for a specific section, loading them in plant bags and starting our hike that was anywhere from a half-mile to four miles long, depending on what section we were at,” said WCC crew supervisor Leo Arias.

Five AmeriCorps members take a lunch break along Klickitat River.
Members take a well-deserved lunch break along the Klickitat River.
Photo contributed by Adrianne Grimm.
The native vegetation will create shade for juvenile salmon and improve erosion control, important elements to the overall effort of helping the river reconnect with its floodplain.

The Klickitat River restoration project also involved adding large woody debris and re-establishing backwater channels to create more suitable habitat for juvenile salmon. Yakama Nation Fisheries  and non-profit Columbia Land Trust have been collaborating on the large-scale floodplain restoration project since 2007. 

Monitoring seagrass in Washington's Puget Sound aquatic reserves

Puget SoundCorps members serving the state Department of Natural Resources’ (DNR) Aquatic Reserves Program starting hitting Puget Sound beaches in April to support seagrass monitoring and more. DNR will use the data to learn more about seagrass, a critical component for a healthy nearshore ecosystem. 

An AmeriCorps member lays a square plot in some eelgrass as part of a monitoring site visit on Cypress Island Aquatic Reserve.
WCC AmeriCorps member Lydia Mahr monitors common
eelgrass in a plot on Cypress Island Aquatic Reserve. Photo
contributed by Taylor Belisle.
What does collecting this data actually involve? Members place square plots along a transect – a long measuring tape – and record the species and numbers of all seagrass within the plot. They also collect sediment samples for examination back at the lab. AmeriCorps members also use temperature and light sensors to collect even more information about current water conditions. 

'Spring cleaning' the Overland Trail on Kitsap Peninsula

Our DNR crew serving in Tahuya in Kitsap County embarked on spring projects by getting the Overland Trail ready for seasonal hikers. The 18.5-mile trail, located near Belfair, was full of thick brush and downed trees after the blustery 2017-18 winter. With a summer of upcoming recreation support projects, the Overland Trail and surrounding trail networks afforded members a great opportunity to get in rhythm with multi-week trail projects.

During their first week, members navigated through a few power equipment glitches but the crew conquered initial tasks such as removing encroaching plants and brush, digging drainage structures to move water off the trail, and removing hazards such as sharp sticks and leaning but standing dead trees. 

Ten AmeriCorps members line up along a freshly constructed section of trail they completed in Harry-Osborne State Forest.
Sometimes crews team up to complete trail projects! Here, 10 WCC
AmeriCorps members from two crews in northwest Washington gather on
a freshly-constructed section of the Harry-Osborne State Forest trail.
Photo contributed by Trevor Cassidy. 
“An extended trail assignment gives a crew the chance to get acquainted with a backcountry setting and developing efficiencies as they progress from week to week,” said supervisor Brennan Moores. “We have fallen into our grove of daily operations. Crew members are keying in on safety and continue to maintain our standard crew procedures: Safety, quality and quantity." 

A month into the project, our members completed activities on the Overland Trail and moved on to building fencing. They provided hikers with a trail free of hazards and drainage channels cleared of leaves. Their efforts also mean all-terrain vehicles are more likely to stay on the trail rather than driving through wooded areas to avoid standing water and harming sensitive understory plants.

Individual Placement Program members clean up Longfellow Creek Legacy Trail on Martin Luther King Jr Day

WCC Individual Placement member Stevie Knapp organized a debris cleanup along Longfellow Creek Legacy Trail for her Martin Luther King Jr Day project in February. Stevie scouted the project site before the event, but on the morning of the national holiday, she spotted a section of the creek that had gone unnoticed during their initial site visit.

“The area was filled with garbage, so much so that you could barely see the creek,” Stevie said, adding that members chose to refocus their efforts on the newly spotted section.

Stevie Knapp smiles as she picks up bottles along a section of Longfellow Creek during her MLK Day debris cleanup project.
Since MLK Day this winter, Stevie has organized workshops
on Plastics Pollution and Policy for August 2018 as part of
her role as King Conservation District's education program
coordinator. Photo by Laura Schlabach.
After a welcome and safety talk, the five-person team donned gloves and grabbed some buckets to start collecting debris. Just four hours later, the team had collected 978 glass bottles, 20 cardboard containers, 150 plastic bags, 70 plastic food packaging items, 76 aluminum cans, and more miscellaneous items.

“This event goes to show that even with a small amount of people, you can make a big difference,” Stevie said.  The next day, she sent the data to Ocean Conservancy, a nonprofit environmental advocacy group that advises ocean policy at federal and state levels.

Join WCC

Do you want to help the environment, meet great people and make a difference in your community? WCC is currently recruiting for the 2018-2019 AmeriCorps service year! Ecology's WCC consists of three subprograms: the original WCC, Veteran Conservation Corps and Puget SoundCorps.

Four AmeriCorps members stop to smile for a photo while planting in a forest.
See photos of the types of projects WCC members support during their service in our WCC Projects Flickr set. Learn more and apply online today to become a WCC member:

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