A Year of Community Engagement on the Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest
Before I moved to Northwestern Washington to serve in a year-long AmeriCorps internship for the National Forest Foundation, I had visited the Seattle area a few times. Each time, the weather had been a typical overcast day, with showers ranging from a light sprinkle, to a heavy downpour. Having grown up in Central Oregon, where there are about as many sunny days as there are in Hawaii, I knew that it would take some time getting used to the cloudy, heavy grey skies.
The first time I experienced a clear day in my new home, I was thoroughly surprised at the splendor of the endless, craggy snow-capped peaks of the North Cascade Mountains and the first time I hiked in the Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest (MBS), I was mesmerized by the moss covered evergreens and the abundance of unique vegetation of this lush, emerald-green forest. As the 2011 youth and volunteer programs coordinator, my job has mainly consisted of sharing the appreciation for these landscapes and enthusiasm for stewardship of public lands among western Washington’s youth.
The National Forest Foundation’s (NFF) partnership with the Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest is grounded on a realization that there is great potential to engage and expose the hundreds of thousands of residents who live in close proximity to this invaluable resource by providing opportunities for youth and surrounding communities to connect with their local National Forest.
2011 began with a plan to coordinate and implement at least 15 service-learning events, create new conservation education lessons to compliment our events, enhance the visibility of the NFF and MBS through media coverage, and develop targeted surveys as tool for evaluating our efforts, among other objectives.
With support from USFS staff and partner contacts and with the NFF’s passion for increasing capacity for volunteerism in National Forests, this year we partnered with more than ten community-based and government organizations and implemented 17 stewardship/education events, a 42 percent increase from last year within the Puget Sound Metropolitan area. This resulted in the eradication of thousands of square feet of invasive plants, thousands of linear feet of trails maintained or rebuilt, thousands of pounds of trash removed and the engagement of more than 700 youth and volunteers and the contribution of over 3,000 hours of stewardship and education on the forest.
Our diverse projects took place all throughout the four ranger districts of the MBS and lasted between one to five days, and generating lasting work efforts and life-long memories. One such project was our 2nd Annual Friends of the Forest® Day at the Stevens Pass Ski Resort where more than 100 volunteers consisting of youth from Chelan County 4-H and Seattle Parks and Recreation Outdoor Opportunities, along with families from all over the Puget Sound area armed with gloves and garbage bags, scoured the slopes for trash. In only two hours, more than 2,000 pounds of garbage was removed from the slopes. One volunteer who brought her kids mentioned, “I can’t believe how much fun we had picking up garbage.”
Apart from feeling fortunate to have been able to serve for the NFF this year and proud of all of the on-the-ground accomplishments, connections with diverse communities, and knowledge I’ve gained, I will never forget the look of amazement on some of the youth’s faces as they gazed up at the sky at night and saw stars for the first time or their surprise to learn that every time they turn on the lights or power on their Xbox at home, the electricity comes from a dam on the Skagit River.
It is these connections that generate a true appreciation and ownership of public lands and I am honored to continue to engage citizens in understanding their public lands and create memorable experiences through 2012 with the National Forest Foundation.