By Zachary Nelson
For the past year, five University of Washington students have teamed together to bring a slice of forest back to life as part of a capstone project. The students — three from UW Bothell and two from Seattle — helped transform a half-acre of North Creek Forest from a neglected eyesore to a haven teeming with life.
When the team began, the site was completely overrun by invasive species, including blackberry bushes up to 10 feet tall. “It took 21 hours and about 25 volunteers just to cut out the site so we could find our boundaries,” said Mahleah Grant, an environmental studies major. “The cool and surprising part was that people were lining up to help us do hard physical labor.”
After clearing the site, the team brought in plants that would create a favorable habitat. Before long, the once poor ecosystem became more livable for native plants and animals. “When we first got to the site, there was no life in the dirt and no animals to be seen,” said Johnathon Rutledge, environmental studies major. “Now, birds nest in the area. Worms wiggle in the dirt. There are bunnies hopping around, and native fungal activity is returning.”
For many years, the outlook for the forest wasn’t hopeful. “It used to all be private land that suffered ecological neglect in some places,” said Warren Gold, associate professor in UW Bothell’s School of Interdisciplinary Arts & Sciences and director of the UW Restoration Ecology Network. “About 10 years ago, we started raising money with Friends of North Creek Forest (FNCF) to buy and restore the land and make it public.”
The forest is now fully owned by the city of Bothell. A master plan process is now underway that will eventually allow public access.
The restoration effort, now in its seventh year, provides capstone projects for teams of students from all three UW campuses. They act as project managers on their designated parcel of land, doing research on environmental problems, forging solutions with community partners and local governments, and implementing those solutions with local community members.
Each parcel continues to receive attention and upkeep from volunteers. “One of the challenges of this project is that we have to make sure the site is maintained after we leave,” said Candice Magbag, an environmental science major. “This means working with community members to set up a network of reliable volunteers. For our site, we are lucky to work with both the City of Bothell and FNCF. The latter will care for the site after we graduate, along with the wonderful community of volunteers.”
The students all agreed this was a standout moment in their academic career, not only for the experience but also for the friends and connections they made.
More student teams are needed continue restoring ecological health to North Creek Forest. “For anybody who is thinking of taking this project on, you won’t regret it,” said Rutledge. “When else in school will you get credit for working outside doing what you love to do and making a real long term difference in the local community?”