North Cascades Wild Stewardship at the Marblemount Native Plant Nursery

On a cold and rainy March morning last weekend, North Cascades Wild 2012 students pulled into the Marblemount Wilderness Information Center with smiles. Piling out of North Cascades Institute vans piloted by staff Amy Brown and Tasha Lexin, 17 high school students from Whatcom and Skagit counties began their journeys with one of the Institute’s tuition-free Summer Youth Programs.
North Cascades Wild brings underserved youth from Washington and Oregon to the North Cascades National Park and Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest for 8 and 12-day summer wilderness expeditions. With a focus on developing leadership skills and learning about the natural and cultural history of the area, students spend time learning to canoe, camp, backpack, and complete service projects for the Park and Forest services.

Mike Brondi shows NC Wild student Zach Sears through the native plant greenhouse.
NC Wild students hard at work clearing winter debris from plant beds.

In preparation for what will be for many of the students their first time delving into the backcountry, North Cascades Wild invites participants to join the Institute throughout the spring in a series of day trips to get to know one another while spending time outdoors. March 31st was the first of three day trips this spring, and students and staff were led in stewardship projects by Mike Brondi, Volunteer and Youth Programs Coordinator for the North Cascades National Park, at the Marblemount Native Plant Nursery.
As plants at the nursery begin to bud and leaf out in anticipation of warmer weather, students helped to clear beds of leaf litter and debris that had piled up throughout the winter season. After a welcome and introduction from program coordinator Amy Brown, students and staff were given a tour of the day’s activities. We divided into three groups to tackle the morning’s projects and get to know each other in smaller settings.
In addition to filling wheel barrels, students also assisted in watering and fertilizing plants in the greenhouse and organizing nursery tools around the property. Get-to-know you games, team building activities, and a picnic lunch at the Wilderness Information Center were interspersed with the day’s stewardship work.

Graduate student Sarah Bernstein works with Samara and Alana on the salal beds.
NC Wild student Josh Serrano brings a load of leaf litter to the compost pile.

At the nursery, park employees like Mike Brondi cultivate native plants that will restore natural areas within the North Cascades. Beds full of salal, Oregon grape, lodgepole pine, maple and other native varieties cover the nursery, waiting to be transplanted to disturbed sites across the Park. In addition to learning about native and invasive plant species, Mike also took time to discuss what it means to be working in a National Park and emphasized how students, like the ones who served as stewards today and who are participating in North Cascades Wild, can make a difference as stewards of public lands in coming generations.

Day trips like this one serve as way for students to get to know one another and their instructors, and also allow participants to spend some needed time outdoors in anticipation of their summer trips. Working on stewardship projects is also an important precursor to North Cascades Wild summer programming, as each trip combines some sort of trail work, plant restoration, or other similar projects into its curriculum. Stewardship work by Summer Youth participants highlights the partnership between North Cascades Institute and the North Cascades National Park, and strengthens the missions of both organizations to engage youth in their public lands.

Matt Kraska, Stewardship Specialist at North Cascades Institute,  leads a crew of NC Wild students as they clear debris from around the nursery.
NC Wild student Stacie Loop collects buckets after a day of clearing native plant beds.
 Graduate student Kiira Heymann works with a crew to clean up around the greenhouse.

After tools had been put away and heaps of new leaves had been added to the compost pile, we took time to gather as a group and reflect on the day. Students who had not known each other that morning and some of whom had never had time to consider some of their local plants, reflected on new friendships, excitement for upcoming summer adventures, and the handfuls of interesting botanical facts learned from Mike Brondi throughout the day.
The next NC Wild day trip will take place on April 21st at the Ebey’s Landing Migratory Bird Festival, and will happen in conjunction with additional stewardship projects sponsored by the North Cascades Institute. We are looking forward to welcoming these 17 students back, along with a few new faces as enrollment for NC Wild continues to grow this spring.
Leading photo of the entire crew after a hard day’s work. All photos courtesy of the author.

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