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The morning of Saturday, Nov. 2, was cold, especially in the long shadows cast by adult trees, but the plunging temperatures didn’t keep volunteers from coming out Powell Creek Protected Area to plant native saplings as part of the second year of an effort by the Nisqually Land Trust. 

The plants were rimmed with frost and ice as the morning event got started. Approximately 23 volunteers arrived dressed in layers of clothes as the three coordinators of the morning’s tree planting placed out coffee on a plastic table, displayed containers of bright orange mallets on the ground and arranged shovels dug in the deep soil. 

The wide stretch of flat land not far from the Nisqually River had once been owned by Spooner Berry Farms to grow strawberries. Now it is owned by the Nisqually Land Trust and is being replanted with native plants. 

This is the second year that volunteers, including school children, have planted young trees and bushes in the fall. As of the end of October 2019, 1,227 plants had been put into the ground with 813 plants still in containers to be planted. On Saturday, 296 native trees and shrubs were planted.

“The plants are from Wabash Farms in the Cascade foothills near Enumclaw,” said Sarah McCarthy, the volunteer coordinator for the Nisqually Land Trust and a member of AmeriCorps. 

The species of young trees and bushes were bigleaf maple, oceanspray, snowberry, serviceberry, mock orange, Oregon grape and Douglas fir, as well as others. 

Closest to the gate into the property, many of the trees were recently planted by school children during field trips from September through October. The children came from schools in the Nisqually River Watershed, which includes schools from Eatonville, Thurston County and the Bethel School District.

“The kids love to come here and plant,” McCarthy said. “Teachers have told me that some of the children who are difficult in class change when they come here. They are kids who like hands on, physical activity.”

Courtney Murphy, the stewardship assistant with the Nisqually Land Trust, said that the waiting plants in containers were still frozen and therefore fragile early in the morning. 

“There’s some differences of opinion about whether you can plant frozen trees and bushes. Some think the plants don’t do as well if the roots are planted while frozen. So, we try to be safe and wait. In an hour or so they should be thawed out,” she said.

After some time in the sun, the plants were ready for the ground. 

The volunteers went to work finishing what the school children had started. Each plant gets a plastic tube around the base to keep rodents, deer and elk from snacking on the vulnerable trunks and stems. In about three years, the tubes will be removed. Each plant also gets a stake next to it that is zip-tied to the tube to keep it upright and secure. The sound of many mallets pounding stakes into the ground sounded like distant drumming. 

Along with the volunteers, McCarthy, Murphy and Emily McCartan, Nisqually River Council program coordinator, worked, answered questions and explained the finer points planting. Why even bother planting the acres when there are trees all around the grassy land? It keeps the river cooler and the salmon prefer it that way. The whole area is a temperate rainforest, which means trees, lots of trees. 

Volunteer Robert Berman, who is involved with Sunrise Movement, explained as he worked on tubes and stakes. 

“Sunrise Movement is made up of young people 18 to 35, and we have a lot of younger kids, too,” he said. “We’re fighting for our future against climate change.” 

He continued, “We’re trying to change the infrastructure from carbon based to green. In doing so we will be creating many new jobs for people, which will help the planet.”

Alex Chaney, Ann Genn and Cassidy Chaney volunteered last year, planting trees against the mature tree line. They are stream stewards with the Nisqually Land Trust and came for a second round of planting. 

Volunteer With the Land Trust

The Nisqually Land Trust has many ongoing opportunities for those looking to volunteer their time. The complete list can be found at nisquallylandtrust.org, but there’s two opportunities in the next week to help plant native trees. 

The Nisqually Land Trust will be planting native trees and shrubs at the Lackamas Flats protected area. The second and third of three planting work parties at this site will be Saturday, Nov. 9, and Wednesday, Nov. 13.

These are three-hour work parties both beginning at 9 a.m. and ending at noon. Volunteers will be working rain or shine, so dress appropriately for the weather.

Register online at http://nisquallylandtrust.org/how-to-help/volunteer-opportunities/ for driving instructions. 

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