The sun-dappled water glistened in the late morning light and so did the foreheads of the teens who planted trees along Hangman Creek last week.
While some kids learn about sustainability in air-conditioned classrooms, students from M.E.A.D. put classroom knowledge to practical use thanks to a partnership with the Lands Council and help from Spokane Teachers Credit Union.
For every member who switches from paper statements to e-statements until June 30, STCU will donate money to plant one tree along Deep Creek, Coulee Creek or Hangman Creek. While the e-statement campaign is new, the credit union has partnered with Project Sustain, the Lands Council’s environmental education program, for the past three years.
“We’re hoping enough members make the switch to e-statements to provide at least 1,000 trees,” said Dan Hansen, senior communications officer. “We like to be good stewards of our members’ money and of the environment, so we love this project with the Lands Council. We like to get kids outdoors, so this is really a terrific opportunity all around.”
Michael Perez, 17, appreciated that opportunity. “It’s nice to get out in the sun with your friends and plant trees. Seeing it makes it more real than hearing about it.”
The students heard about watershed restoration efforts from Kat Hall, conservation program director. Hall has spent a lot of time with the kids at M.E.A.D. She smiled at Perez.
“We’re getting our Project Sustain kids out of the classroom,” Hall said. “They’re helping us fulfill our goal of planting 25,000 trees.”
Funding from community partners, two grants from the Department of Ecology, and a grant from U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has furthered the progress of restoring the Hangman watershed. “The Hangman Creek watershed is very degraded,” said Hall, explaining the need. She pointed to a wide swath the creek had carved in its path toward the Spokane River. “The banks have eroded – nothing is controlling the flow of the creek. It’s scoured away the soil.”
The result? An influx of sediment into the water, which makes it difficult for fish to spawn and decreases water quality. “Healthy riparian vegetation (trees and shrubs along the shoreline) help filter pollution and contaminants.”
The M.E.A.D. (Mead Education Alternative Division) students were planting potted hawthorn and cottonwood trees, as well as willow whips and poles. “These guys in particular are really hard workers and take pride in what they do,” said Hall, who also works with other schools.
But the Lands Council can’t just plant trees anywhere they see a need because most of the streamside areas intersect private property. So they send out targeted mailings and go door-to-door to talk to landowners.
Kristina Rice-Erso was one of them. Delighted, she watched the students work along the shoreline on her property. She said when Lands Council representatives knocked on her door she thought they were angels. “It’s been awesome,” she said. “It’s so important to teach our children so they can continue with the stewardship. I’m very thankful that they’ve come.”
This was Cassie Gordon’s second tree-planting venture with Project Sustain. “Last year we planted trees along Deep Creek. We went back later and watered them. I could see the difference we’d made,” the 16-year-old said.
And that’s just what Hall had hoped for.
“This is the best possible situation,” she said. “The kids are directly affecting the environment and I hope this project and the environment are affecting them.” She squinted into the sun and looked toward students swarming the creek bank. “What’s happening here is magical.”