Volunteers with Palouse Conservation District endured wind-whipped snow and frigid temperatures to plant willow trees along the banks of Paradise Creek Saturday morning.
Led by Audrey Martinez, who is working for the district through AmeriCorp, a handful of volunteers frequently had to turn their faces against sudden gales that turned placid snowfall into stinging missiles of ice and obscured a nearby treeline from view in an instant. The clouds cleared just hours later and while temperatures remained chilly throughout the day, most evidence of the flurry was erased by early afternoon.
Despite the inclement weather, Martinez’s four volunteers fanned out along Paradise Creek east of Pullman near the Bill Chipman Trail to jab armloads of willow staves into the muddy banks.
The district has been hosting Plant the Palouse volunteer days since mid-March. Earlier in the program, Martinez said, volunteers were planting a variety of riparian plant life that thrives in wetland areas near riverbanks, but now that it’s later in the season, efforts have shifted toward planting native willow species.
“Basically we want to create riparian buffers in the conservation district area,” she said. “This helps with soil stabilization and also filtering out nutrients that might runoff from both farms and roads.”
She explained that chemicals in this kind of runoff can have a harmful effect on local plant and wildlife.
“Another thing is, it also helps shade the water which lowers the temperature, because in the state of Washington, it’s good for the fish to have lower temperatures.”
Wielding a heavy metal bar called a “stinger” which she used to poke stave-sized holes into the riverbank, Martinez and company planted perhaps a couple dozen of the trees before retreating to a nearby shed to escape the wind and snow. She said before the mission began that there was a chance volunteers would not be able to plant much because of the weather, but the event is still a valuable education opportunity.
“A lot of what a conservation district does is just educates the local populace on how to have a better environment,” she said.
Many of the volunteers themselves were Washington State University students who said they were participating in Plant the Palouse to fulfill volunteer hour requirements related to a class or major.
Kacey May, a psychology major, said he chose Plant the Palouse over other volunteer opportunities because it was a rare opportunity to physically do something.
“Honestly I just chose this because it was one of the in-person ones,” he said. “I’m already on the computer for, like, all my classes, I might as well go outside actually.”
Other volunteers said they just wanted to help beautify and preserve a landscape they’ve come to value so others can learn to enjoy those same natural spaces.
“When I was first going here, it was gorgeous with the amount of plants and scenery ... I went on a lot of walks, so I really enjoyed it,” said Melanie Bricker, 24. “I want positive experiences for walking and clearing your head and getting outside of your classes for other people too.”
Jodi Prout, PCD Education and Outreach Coordinator, said this is the fifth or sixth Plant the Palouse event they’ve held since being given the green light to bring in larger groups of volunteers early last month. The final Plant the Palouse event will take place April 17, she said.
Prout agreed with Martinez that a large part of the function of these events is to create education opportunities — but she said volunteers really help when it comes to boots-on-the ground work done by the district. Without the help of volunteers, she said, conservation work in the district would be much more challenging.
“We get some community folks coming out, we also get a lot of university students just looking for opportunities to find out more about Pullman’s waterways and then they’re looking for community service hours as well,” Prout said. “It’s a great win-win situation for us, having the two universities here and having such a dedicated community base that’s willing to come out and get their hands dirty.”
Jackson can be reached at (208) 883-4636, or by email to firstname.lastname@example.org.