Summer Kicks Off with Stewardship

I have a motto for hiking in the Northwest: “I may not get a tan, but at least I’ll get a shower.” This winter did nothing but confirm my beliefs. During the longer-than-usual dark months of rain falling outside my office, I sat at my desk planning volunteer projects in the hopes that the sky would someday dry. Lo and behold, it did.
On May 28th we had our kickoff day for a brand new North Cascades Institute program, North Cascades Stewards. The first event was held in Marblemount at the North Cascades National Park Native Plant Nursery. And guess what, there was some sunshine. The weather was finally warm enough for me to take off my jacket and work in short sleeves. Spring showers may later have forced me to put my hood back on, but for a blissful 30 minutes, I worked outside in the balmy 60-degree weather, soaking in the sun’s rays. It was there in Marblemount that I sat under a patchy blue sky and started the program I had been planning for so many months. The birds were chirping, the leaves bright green with buds, the air heavy and laden with the sweet smell of cottonwood trees, together, these things added up to the change of the seasons.

North Cascades Stewards bear their tools have working in the nursery.

Reveling in this glimpse of spring, me and seven volunteers got our hands dirty, pulling non-natives and edging the beds of the garden. National Park employees Cheryl Cunningham and Mike Brondi led us in maintaining the garden and taught us about wilderness management. Soon the beds we maintained will be used to grow native plants to restore the Park. This simple day of stewardship marked the beginning of our summer volunteer season.

Our program on its way, I went out for our second event of the year, National Trails Day. Driving to the Baker River Trailhead on June 4th, I was greeted by the peaks of Mt. Baker and Mt. Shucksan gleaming at me from above. Sunshine streaming through my car window, I no longer bemoaned the early morning, it was finally summer outside! Upon arriving at the trailhead, I was greeted in the parking lot by graduate student Dave Strich, our naturalist for the day, along with Otis Allen, trails foreman from Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest, and CJ, our lone but wonderful volunteer. Together, we raked straw at the campsite left by visitors and broke up illegal fire rings. Our noble endeavor was to restore this beautiful riverside campsite to its intended state, and hope that our intentions are honored by others. We’re all about positive thinking.

Dave educates stewards about the forest.

After working, we spent the rest of the day soaking the kind of contentment that only comes with 70-degrees of sunshine. Sandals replaced our boots, pant legs zipped off into shorts, and we held plant guides in place of tools. We were now in naturalizing mode. Dave led us down the trail telling stories of how plants are named and fun facts about the forest. Enormous cedars and delicate hemlocks towered over the lively spring blossoms of false solomon’s seal, salmon berry, and a few columbines starting to show their colors. Moving at a naturalist’s pace (about a mile an hour), we casually combed the forest for anything of interest, which, as naturalists, is pretty much anything. All in all, not a bad way to spend a sunny Saturday.
The best part of both stewardship events was not the sun, but the satisfaction. Like CJ said, “There’s just something about working outside. You feel like you did something.” With a full calendar of events in North Cascades National Park, Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest, and Skagit Valley, we have the opportunity to get a lot done. Trail work, native plant restoration, and campsite maintenance give our North Cascades Stewards the chance to feel the sun on their backs and a sense of accomplishment. Who knows, if the weather keeps it up on our project days, I might have to change my motto to “North Cascades Stewardship: Feel good sunshine.”

Trillium on Baker River Trail.
Photos courtesy of Jeff Giesen and Julie Stone.

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