NC Wild Springs into Stewardship

Many hands make light work.
An old saying at the forefront of my mind throughout the first North Cascades Wild spring day trip. A dozen NC Wild participants, several North Cascades Institute instructors and national park staff came together for a day of stewardship work at the North Cascades National Park native plant nursery in Marblemount. In addition to providing some service to the nursery, the effort was also a chance get to know each other and begin building community among NC Wild participants and staff.
These students from Whatcom and Skagit counties, as well as others from Northwest Washington, will embark on 12-day backpacking and canoe wilderness expeditions in North Cascades National Park and Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest. During these trips, participants focus on leadership development, community building, sense of place and stewardship. Spring and fall day trips, such as this one, provide a chance for students to build community through service work.
In the North Cascades, signs of spring are before us, as the dark, cold days of winter slowly transform into longer, warmer days, signaling the time to prepare the Park’s nursery for the busy growing seasons of spring and summer. This meant much work was needed to de-winterize the facility and promote healthy plant growth.

Cheryl Cunningham, North Cascades National Park native plants nursery manager, demonstrates how to fertilize potted plants.

Mike Brondi, North Cascades National Park volunteer coordinator, introduces NC Wild participants to the stinging nettle, describing its edibility and health benefits.

We arrived at the park nursery mid-morning. This was the first time these NC Wild participants had come together. Following initial introductions, we met with Mike Brondi, North Cascades National Park volunteer coordinator, and Cheryl Cunningham, North Cascades native plant nursery manager. The two national park employees introduced the nursery to the group, explaining the different types of plants grown and the purpose for raising them at the nursery.
Within the nursery, organized clusters of potted salal, cedar, Oregon grape and other varieties of native grasses and shrubs awaited planting within North Cascades National Park. Mike explained to participants how their work at the nursery would help National Park staff further serve the community by reestablishing natural areas within the Park. Many of the nursery plants will be transplanted throughout the North Cascades Complex, including areas like Cascade Pass and Stehekin, to boost plant restoration efforts.
Fertilizing, pruning and clearing leaf and twig debris from plant beds was on the agenda. We each slipped on a pair of work gloves and dove in to help. As we divided into groups, each group was assigned a different task that collectively met the end goal of the spring clean up. One team fertilized plants, while another pruned shrubs to stimulate plant growth. The rest of us focused on clearing debris and pulling weeds in and around the plant beds.

NC Wild participants work together to rake, sweep and prune around the North Cascades National Park native plant nursery in Marblemount.

Isabelle carefully trims native grasses that will be transplanted in North Cascades National Park.

Teamwork and community building among NC Wild staff and participants contributed to the success of the day’s work.

Throughout the morning, participants got to know each other as questions about hobbies and favorite movies and music were discussed. The morning initially warned of cold wind and rain, but it turned out to be a calm, warm, overcast day in Marblemount, making for a relaxing day of work outside.
We broke for lunch in the afternoon and a tour of the Park’s Wilderness Information Center where we viewed a three-dimensional map of the North Cascades, and discussed the concepts of Leave No Trace practices in the wilderness. Mike led the group through a brief tour of the nursery’s greenhouse and explained other volunteer contributions made to the nursery by former NC Wild participants.

Mike Brondi orients NC Wild participants to the rugged North Cascades landscape at the National Park’s Wilderness Information Center.

NC Wild participants tour the greenhouse at the National Park’s native plant nursery.

Following the greenhouse tour and several icebreaker games, the group returned to the nursery beds. The afternoon flew by and before we knew it, it was time to conclude our work.

We took a moment to examine the work we had accomplished together that day. In just a few hours we had cleared an entire section of the nursery and fertilized and pruned a majority of the plants. I was astonished at the work we had completed together in such a short amount of time. If someone had been working alone on this project, it would have taken them at least a week to complete it!

We concluded our experience together with a closing circle, where each of us shared something we would take away from our experience that day:
“Teamwork really does pay off because one person couldn’t have done this on their own,” said Ashley.
“I learned these plants really do make a difference,” said Isabelle.
“I learned why we restore plants and why we need to do that. It made me feel really good to be doing this work,” said Elany.

NC Wild participants and staff after a day’s work of teamwork and fun at the North Cascades National Park native plant nursery.

These comments echoed many of the thoughts that occurred to me throughout my efforts that day. But, “many hands make light work,” was the take-home message for me at that time. It took energy, cooperation, a good attitude and team work to accomplish what we did that day. As we prepared to leave Marblemount I kept looking back at our accomplishments, proud of everyone who participated and dedicated their time to make this day successful. I anticipate the time we will have together in the upcoming months, and the positive impacts we will make in each others’ lives and in the Skagit Valley.

All photos courtesy of the author.


  1. Amy Brown

    Thanks for a fabulous post, Codi, about a fabulous and fun day! Thank you especially to all of our North Cascades Wild student volunteers for coming out and for the support from Mike Brondi and Cheryl Cunningham at North Cascades National Park for making this day such a success. I can’t wait for our next day trip on April 23rd to the Padilla Bay Migratory Bird Festival!

  2. Cindy Bjorklund

    What a great start to the season of getting to know and discover the North Cascades for another group of great students. Thanks for the post.

  3. Kelsi Franzen

    Glad to hear of the great start to the NC Wild season! It makes me miss my year last year! Best wishes to you all!

  4. Natasha Lexin

    Truly a beautiful day to kick off the season! I am looking forward to our next day trip and meeting more amazing people that will be joining our NC Wild family this year. Thanks for the great summary, Codi.

  5. Justina

    i had alot of fun that day meeting new people and enjoyed helping out in the nursery

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