As their boots squelched through the mud, Port Townsend High School junior Jasmine Yearian and senior Callay Boire and their “willow group” smashed down stretches of invasive reed canary grass.
“Willows can grow roots if their pods sense water, and if they sense air they can grow leaves,” Boire said as she laid pieces of cardboard over the grass and punctured it with holes.
Another one of her team members stuck a willow cutting into the ground through the hole.
“That’s why we just put a cutting from a willow tree into ground,” Boire said. “It takes a lot of energy to do this, though.”
Yearian and Boire were two of several high school environmental stewardship leaders who helped instruct volunteers in tree planting at the Northwest Watershed Institute’s annual Plant-A-Thon on Feb. 2 along the Tarboo Valley at Trillium Woods Farm, where Concerts In The Barn is held, near Quilcene.
As they led their group of volunteers to the zone where the willows were to be planted, the high schoolers taught younger students from Port Townsend High School and the Swan School planting techniques, safety, quality control and plant identification before their group set to work planting willow trees.
“It’s so rewarding because there are so many people, and we’re all working together,” said Yearian, who has been coming to the Plant-A-Thon for at least seven years.
She and Boire had witnessed the trees planted in previous years grow tall. They have filled in areas previously taken over by blackberries.
The experience of leading volunteers is just one way the high-schoolers are preparing for careers in environmental stewardship. Yearian, who is in Running Start at Peninsula College, wants to study environmental science. Boire, a senior who is a full-time Running Start student, already has been accepted into college, where she plans to get involved in public policy to protect places like the Tarboo Watershed.
“The outdoors has always been part of my life,” Boire said. “It feels good to give back and say thanks.”
While they tackled the job of willow planting with teen energy, the Plant-A-Thon had nine other zones where nearly 200 people of all ages planted 5,000 native trees and shrubs.
“The watershed is one of the only major watersheds that doesn’t have Highway 101 crossing the estuary,” said Jude Rubin, Northwest Watershed Institute stewardship director. “We need to have intact forests to protect the salmon habitats.”
In its 13th year, the Plant-A-Thon brought students from schools across Jefferson County as well as local families and businesses for a muddy day of tree planting.
“It makes my heart soar when I look around and see all your faces with your shovels ready to go,” said Gene Jones, Sr., a Port Gamble S’Klallam tribal elder who began the event with a blessing. “You will see the results. Maybe not tomorrow, maybe not next week. But in the future, you will see the results.”