The group, which operates under the auspices of the City of Woodinville, officially got started back in 2004 and has been integral in vegetation and habitat restoration in key spots along the Sammamish River Trail.
“There was actually work being done in these areas on a yearly basis before 2004,” explains Brenda Eriksen, volunteer coordinator and permit technician with the City of Woodinville. “Large groups of people would come out when there would be a Sammamish Releaf event, which was sponsored by King County and some local businesses. They would work on different projects along the Sammamish River. It was a collective effort between Bothell, Woodinville and Redmond at the time.” She adds, “But, then we realized that we needed to do something more than just once a year in order to keep the areas maintained, so that’s when the City of Woodinville decided to create the Stewards.”
Volunteers meet once a month to remove invasive plants, such as blackberries, as well as plant native trees and shrubs, in an effort to continue to restore areas around Woodin and Little Bear creeks.
The restored habitat creates a healthier aquatic environment for the salmon during their various life cycles, and the native plants also support diverse populations of wildlife, including birds, small mammals, reptiles and insects, which are all part of a healthy ecosystem.
“We have people of all ages and walks of life who come out and help,” says Diane Nelson, one of the lead volunteers for the Stewards. “We have Cub and Boy Scouts, honor society groups, high school ecology clubs and kids looking to do community service, along with adults who want to give back to their community,” she adds. “We’re always looking for more people because obviously with more hands, you can accomplish so much more work.”
Nelson has been involved with the group for eight-plus years and has put in over 200 volunteer hours.
She explains that she often walks on the Sammamish Trail and would sometimes see people working on the side of the path.
“I walked past them on two separate occasions before I thought about joining them,” she says. “I decided I could do something to give back to this trail — this backyard garden — that I enjoy so much and I’ve been helping out ever since.”
The local woman enjoys being outdoors and involved in an activity that’s positive for both the environment and the community. She notes that without the Stewards’ continuous work, the area would be overgrown by blackberries and other invasive plants and would be very ugly.
She adds, “We’ve created beauty, while providing a good habitat for wildlife and fish and it’s great to see the progress and changes we’ve been able to make.”
Jack Lockhart, another lead volunteer, who was one of the group’s initial members, has put in more than 600 hours with the Stewards over the years.
He is also involved in other environmental projects around the region.
“I’m passionate about the environment, preservation and conservation,” explains Lockhart. “It’s a cause that’s near and dear to my heart and I spend many of my weekends outside helping at various locations in the area.”
As a consummate volunteer with the Stewards, he has been able to see progress occur in each of the targeted locales, noting that the native plants are getting stronger and better able to hold their own against the invasive species.
“It’s a battle,” he says, “and you have to constantly deal with the invasive plants or they will choke out the native plants. The invasive species have no natural competitors to keep them in balance so that’s where we come in.”
Lockhart believes that even a few hours of time can make a difference when it comes to helping the environment.
He adds, “You can make a positive impact and feel rewarded that you are doing something with a purpose.”
The Sammamish River Stewards meet the second Saturday of each month for two hours from 10 a.m. – noon.
The group is also involved in larger cooperative efforts for Arbor Day (April), Day of Caring (September) and Mountain to Sound (November).
For more information, contact Brenda Eriksen at the City of Woodinville (425) 877-2272.