Conservation program helps landowners restore their property

Issa Trujillo of The Harbor School and Quinn Williams of Homestead plant trees at a recent work party. - Dana Schuerholz-Wright Photo
Issa Trujillo of The Harbor School and Quinn Williams of Homestead plant trees at a recent work party.
— image credit: Dana Schuerholz-Wright Photo

Mounds of blackberries have been replaced by hundreds of native trees and shrubs along the banks of a small stream near the Westside Highway, thanks to the effort of several children and a little-known program offered by the King Conservation District.

Indeed, several of the kids, students at The Homestead School and The Harbor School, paused from their work during a recent daylong planting party and marveled at what they were helping to accomplish.

“At first the stream was all blackberries. You could hardly see it,” said Mabel Moses, 10. “Now, look! It’s fun to see it.”

Lucca Shattuck, 9, said he hopes to return in 20 years, when the short, spindly trees he planted will tower over the stream. “I’ll be able to say, ‘Hey, I planted that tree.’”

It wasn’t long ago that this deeply channeled stream that flows from the steep slopes of Vashon’s west side into Colvos Passage was barely discernible. Thick brambles enveloped it, said Dana Schuerholz-Wright, who runs the Homestead School, situated on a seven-acre property she owns with her partner Sarah Wright.

Last fall, Schuerholz-Wright and the kids at the Homestead School started removing the invasive blackberries, ivy and holly; she used the work parties as an opportunity to talk to the students about the stream, its ecology and its importance to Puget Sound’s overall health.

But it was slow-going and arduous, until Schuerholz-Wright discovered that a program offered by the King Conservation District (KCD) would help to cover the costs of a restoration effort. She applied for the grant — an amazingly simple process, she said. And now, the conservation district is covering 90 percent of the project’s hard costs — from hundreds of trees to dozens of yards of mulch — as well as some of the people power to make it happen.

“It was a huge boost,” she said of the conservation district’s support.

All told, the project will cost about $6,000; Schuerholz-Wright expects to pay $600 out of her own pocket. A restoration team has also begun working with her and the kids, pouring in hours of technical and hands-on support that a year ago she thought she’d have to do on her own.

The funds and support, she said, “make it possible to take on something like this. … It’s a way to get something done that’s out of the scope of most landowners.”

The King Conservation District has been around more than 60 years, created — with hundreds of other conservation districts across the country — in response to the short-sighted land-management practices that led to the devastating Dust Bowl in the 1930s. Today, it works with a variety of landowners on how best to manage their natural resources, financed by way of a $10 assessment tacked onto every property owner’s tax bill.

Landowners within its boundaries are entitled to technical assistance on a range of natural resource issues — including water quality protection, farm management, soil and slope stability and wildlife enhancement.

KCD is mostly known for working with farmers to develop farm management plans that protect natural resources — a program that often includes cost-share grants to landowners to implement some of the practices they come up with in the course of the process, said Jay Mirro, a resource specialist for KCD. Called the Landowner Incentive Program, or LIP, it covers the cost of fencing, manure bins, pasture planning and several other so-called best practices, with KCD paying 50 to 75 percent of the hard costs. Also on the list are aquatic buffer plantings, covered to the tune of 90 percent, as Schuerholz-Wright discovered.

Since 2008, when the landowner incentive program was started, KCD has provided nearly $40,000 in cost-share grants covering 16 projects on Vashon, said Annmarie Magnochi, interim coordinator of the land incentive program.

The projects make sense ecologically, said Adam Jackson, a resource specialist who was at Homestead’s property during the recent work party. “When it rains, water comes downhill. These buffers help to slow it down and take up the excess nutrients,” he said.

There are hundreds of such streams on Vashon’s west side, all of them flowing into Puget Sound, he added. “If we can get more folks on board, we can really begin to make a difference,” he said.

Schuerholz-Wright, who has long been concerned about the Sound’s environmental health, has already begun spreading the word about the program.

“If enough of these streams get healthy, the result, at some point, will be exponential,” she said.

The perennial stream on her property doesn’t have a name, but the kids in her small school will soon name it, she said. They’ll also watch the processes unfold over time — including, Schuerholz-Wright hopes, the return of migratory songbirds, butterflies and other insects and the slow, steady return of a healthy stream.

“This project fulfills a strong desire in children to make a difference,” she added. “They’re proud of their work.”


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