Northwest Christian School

Educating for Today, Training for Eternity

Passing on the green gene

Northwest Christian students get some hands-on lessons in water quality, conservation through municipal partnership

Published: March 24th, 2010 06:00 AM

Colleen Carroll

Groups from Northwest Christian School dig holes to plant willow trees, remove invasive plants, get a little muddy and learn about conservation.

As the sun beamed down through the morning chill, dozens of parents, teachers and students gathered along a quiet street in southwest Puyallup to make a small but important step in the city’s growing environmental movement.

Groups from Northwest Christian School in Puyallup have been coming to Silver Creek for six years, said Chrystal Clemens, the school’s administrative assistant.

“We’ve always been blessed with a sunny day,” Clemens said during the March 19 field trip. “We’ve never come in the pouring rain.”

Silver Creek is a tiny tributary of the Puyallup River that winds its way north from South Hill through residential developments and wetlands. Many of the trees planted in 2004 are now twice as tall as the children here today.

“This used to be a farm up here,” explained Mark Palmer, the city of Puyallup’s stormwater engineer, who is helping foster a partnership between the city and the Pierce Stream Team for a number of hands-on community service projects relating to water quality.

“It has been a really successful project thus far,” Palmer said of Silver Creek. “Anything we can do up here helps the overall effort to help Puget Sound.”

Several years ago, Silver Creek was more of a “conveyance system” than a natural stream, Palmer said. It ran through a small ditch that parallels 12th Street and into Meeker Creek, eventually feeding into Clarks Creek and the Puyallup River. The creek now runs perpendicular to 12th Street and improves water flow into other streams, which could eventually play a part in restoring the local salmon population.

Melissa Buckingham has been working with the Pierce Stream Team for the past five years. Her group is part of the Pierce Conservation District, a state-run organization that gets the bulk of its funding from property tax allocations in most county jurisdictions, including Puyallup and Sumner.

“The goal is to eventually have this area be self-sustaining and let nature take care of itself,” Buckingham told the students.

Buckingham and Palmer divided the group into smaller teams for the 90-minute activity. While one team drove large steel stakes into the ground and created space for new saplings, another team took on the challenging task of removing invasive plant species to help adult trees flourish.

There are three types of plants that commonly destroy habitat in the Silver Creek area, Buckingham said. One is Himalayan blackberry, which develops a huge root system and sucks up moisture, starving other plants.

“When the big trees die there won’t be baby trees to take over,” Buckingham explained.

Another commonly-found invasive plant is reed canary grass, which can grow more than six feet tall. It deprives other grasses of needed sunlight. The city has been mowing it down, Buckingham said, allowing friendly grasses to grow tall enough that they can compete for the sun’s rays.

The third species that students and parents targeted is English ivy, which spreads quickly through seed pods found in bird waste.

“A lot of people like the look of (English ivy) in their yards but it’s terrible,” Buckingham said. “It will actually kill an adult tree by pulling it down.”

The Pierce Stream Team works with numerous schools, civic groups and random volunteer efforts to address water quality, wildlife and vegetation issues across the county, Buckingham said.

“That’s how we initially planted this (area), was by a series of events on Saturdays,” she said. “Virtually everything we do is volunteer-based.”

Several parents said activities like this give their children a learning opportunity they wouldn’t get in the classroom.

“It gets them out into the world to see how things work,” said Tracy Busick, whose 10-year-old daughter, Mya, attends Northwest Christian. “It’s really nice that the city is conscientious about putting things back.”

The group was asked to bring appropriate clothing and footwear because they were working in a muddy wetland, though some didn’t heed that advice.

“We’ve already had two kids get stuck and we had to pull them out,” said a smiling April Ziegele, a parent who was assisting on the field trip for the third straight year.

Puyallup has partnered with the stream team on a number of ventures, including a rain garden project that began last summer. More participants are needed for a second neighborhood rain garden installation this June, Palmer pointed out. The city is also actively educating residents on the dangers of home-based car washing, trying to eliminate pollutants from the stormwater system.

“This is one case where your tax dollars are getting stretched pretty well,” Palmer said.