After two years working with Forterra, outgoing Stewardship Associate, Mariska Kecskes, is prone to nightmares about invasive plants – like knotweed being planted in her front yard or a tattoo of a Western hemlock being mistakenly inked on her arm as English ivy.
In the past year as our AmeriCorps Individual Placement, Mariska lead over 900 volunteers to complete over 63,000 square feet of restoration and maintenance and install over 1,000 native trees and shrubs. She spent her first year with Forterra as part of the restoration crew with Washington Conservation Corps, ripping out invasive species throughout the Puget Sound region.
Mariska is busy wrapping up loose ends during her last few days with Forterra but took some time to answer a few questions.
First things first. Do you like eating blackberries anymore?
Yes. I like to think that by eating blackberries, I’m preventing birds from eating them and spreading them everywhere.
Why did you decide to work a second year with Forterra?
I have always been impressed by Forterra’s holistic approach to environmental issues so I applied to their Stewardship Associate – AmeriCorps Individual Placement position. I believe that it’s important to not just focus on one isolated issue.
What was rewarding about your job?
It was great to see the progress that can be made during one work party. You start with a huge blackberry bush patch and by the end feel so accomplished. It helps you feel proactive about restoration and understand why maintaining a healthy habitat in and outside of the city is a long but necessary process.
What is challenging about your job?
Sometimes it’s hard to detach myself from my restoration work. Driving along I-5 is a struggle now because I look around and can’t help but get stressed out by the amount of weeds along the highway.
What’s something cool you’ve learned?
I’m happy that I’m able to identify so many plants. Not only does it impress colleagues, turns out it’s also a great way to impress dates on hikes! Nothing makes you an object of desire like pointing out all the edible wild berries or saving someone from a stinging nettle.
Before you leave us, do you have any tips to share?
First, if you ever take part in restoration – as a volunteer or otherwise – try to visit the site again in the future. It is really gratifying to watch your impact literally grow and it helps you understand the importance of the work you did. Second, when you spend a lot of time pulling blackberry bushes and have endless scratches, it’s easiest to just tell people that you have angry cats.
Mariska will be heading to graduate school for an MSc in Environmental Science & Policy at Central European University. We wish her the best of luck and thank her for her incredible two years of service! If you or someone you know is interested in joining Forterra’s Restoration Crew through the Washington Conservation Corps, check out WCC’s website for more information!
Forterra’s exciting new C3 program (Carbon Capturing Companies), spearheaded by Pearl Jam, is working to engage local businesses about their carbon footprint. In addition, this is creating an amazing opportunity for community-lead tree planting for carbon sequestration.
A bunch of great local companies from the Seattle Sounders and Seahawks to Cherry St. Coffee and Molly Moon’s Ice Cream have committed to reducing their carbon usage and sequestering carbon through tree planting. These efforts will be completed on urban parks in the communities where the businesses work and their customers live and play.
Submission period has been extended through September 10th!
Forterra is looking for homes for these companies’ carbon. This means free trees! Native conifers will be available in the late fall to all who apply and agree to maintain and monitor the trees through their establishment. Application and more information available on the Forterra webpage.
Green City Partnerships encourage Stewards to compost their invasive plant waste on-site when applicable. Check out this great video to show how to make a top-notch compost pile. Special thanks to the 2008-2009 Washington Conservation Corps Crew for making this great video. For more information about building compost piles on-site, and other Best Management Practices for Urban Forest Restoration check out the Forest Steward Field Guide: http://greenseattle.org/forest-steward-resources-1/forest-steward-field-guide
Our region exists across a dramatic gradient: from the peaks of the Cascades and Olympics to the Sound; from the wildlands of the National Parks and Forests to the urban cores of our cities. This sphere encompasses all of our cities; our jobs and homes. It also provides the spaces in which we interact with the natural world. But a lot of questions about this interaction exist:
What value is nature to me, or to my community?
Is my environment in danger?
What impact do I have on nature in my city?
How can we improve the natural resources in our communities?
Since late 2009, the Green City Partnerships have been participating in a collaboration with a US Forest Service Research effort called the Green Cities Research Alliance. This work is similar to exciting research that is being completed across the country like Chicago, NYC, and Baltimore looking at the interaction of people with ‘everyday nature’, in the places where they live, work, and play across the gradient.
It is important to understand the value of ‘green’ to all our landscapes, not only our forests and farms, but also the green in our cities. Within our gradient we have a variety of types of landscapes, but also cities too! We live in small towns and exurban communities. And work in industrial centers and mixed use spaces. We shop at malls, on mainstreets, and mom and pop’s. Each of our communities can and does benefit from nature in their own unique way.
The Green Cities Research Alliance is conducting efforts to better understand this relationship of our cities with the natural world. Research includes investigation of:
The people stewarding our parks and open spaces
The quality of natural habitats
Economic and other values of nature
Public health, and the benefits of outdoor restoration and recreation
Amazing work like this in the Pacific Northwest and elsewhere is springing up like crazy: check out this, and this, and this, and this here. Green Cities Research Projects hope to uncover information about our interaction with everyday nature like these projects have, that can help our region thrive through health and stability, as well as provide data that is useful in cities across the country. We will make an effort to keep you informed. Please check back regularly for posts on the Science of Green Cities to see what we are discovering!
Recently, I wrote about my experience as an AmeriCorps volunteer, learning how to lead students in restoration events. Here’s an excerpt:
“Thursday, March 24. 8:30AM. D-Day. As I paced under the canopy at Farrel-McWhirter Park in Redmond, waiting for the yellow school bus to pull up, I took a swig from my water bottle and recited in my head what I would say. I was nervous, definitely. It was a fear of the unknown, of the understanding that whatever poured out of that bus –”Tweens,” it was rumored– they could tear me apart in a heartbeat, if they wanted to. Would they want to?”
Last month I attended the Partners in Community Forestry conference, hosted by the Arbor Day Foundation, in Portland, Oregon. A common theme echoing throughout the conference was how programs and ideas are making waves and subsequent ripples that extend beyond their own individual realms. At the end of the conference, the attendees were given a small rock with a “make waves” stamp. Right now, my rock is resting on my computer’s monitor, reminding me each day to go out and make a few splashes and ripples.
So, what kind of waves am I making? Since August, I was married amidst a five-day blur of family and friends gathered under large Ponderosa pines, went on a fabulous honeymoon to Corsica, helped my aunt and niece prepare for a move to Norway, surprised my best friend in her favorite Oakland cemetery for her birthday, and baked my first quiche with the fresh eggs from our three chickens, Gizzy, Squeaky, and Bhindi. Those are just a few of the lovely waves in my personal life.
At work, the waves are crashing on our shores daily. As the director of the Green Cities program, I am fortunate to have the opportunity to see the wide range of our work first-hand. Last week, representatives from all five of the Green Cities came together for the first time over a lunchtime brownbag, I was lucky enough to be a guest lecturer for an ESRM (Environmental Science and Resource Management) course at the University of Washington, and we finalized a Joint Venture Agreement with a stellar research team at the US Forest Service and King County. The brownbag was proof that the initial splash of the Green Seattle Partnership created waves and ripples that are now extending to more cities than ever imagined five years ago. The lecture was an excellent opportunity to show students how the basics of ecology and knowledge of forest systems are being applied to real-world projects in our Green Cities efforts; the splash of learning is creating waves and ripples in urban forest restoration. And, finally, the new research that will come from our partnership with the US Forest will surely produce a few waves and ripples for stewardship programs near and far. And, that was all in just three days!
Sometimes I feel like we are pushing a giant boulder, uphill both ways, while other times we are merely lobbing small pebbles. At moments, the work ahead of us seems insurmountable: “You are doing what?” “Trying to remove invasive species from how many acres?” “How are you possibly engaging the community at that level?” These are not uncommon questions. However, each answer is usually followed by a reaction of “how cool” or “wow, that’s amazing”. Those statements help us feel that we are up for the challenge, making small and big splashes each day and sending ripples out into the world along the way.
Over the past 10 months of my AmeriCorps term working for the Cascade Land Conservancy, I have thoroughly enjoyed getting to know all the amazingly dedicated and hard working folk behind the Green City Partnerships. All of the CLC, Parks Department, and various partner non-profit staff I have worked with are truly passionate about their work. The speed at which these programs are growing is fueled by this passion, a shared vision of healthy parks, and of course amazing community support.
It is the simple truth that we could never accomplish our restoration goals without the brute strength and dedication of our amazing forest stewards and individual volunteers. You are an inspiration for all of us working for Green Cities and for your entire community! Some of my most memorable times over my term have been getting out from behind the computer and putting my hands in the dirt with a group of volunteers. The sheer amount of work you get done when joining together and the attitude you keep while fighting blackberry thorns or stubborn soil never ceases to impress me.
I want to pose a little challenge for anyone reading this. Being from Seattle myself, I was very surprised to realize how few of the parks I had actually visited before starting this position. This entire region and every Green City (Kent, Kirkland, Redmond, Seattle, and Tacoma) has many beautiful pockets of nature that are often hiding, indeed often behind the scenes of our normal reality. I simply encourage everyone to go explore those parks and natural areas that you’ve been meaning to visit or to go find a new place you never even knew existed. You won’t regret it.
I can’t wait to see the amazing accomplishments that are made over the next few years in our Green City Programs & am excited to come back to our events as a volunteer!
Thank you to everyone who is helping to make sure our urban natural areas are being taken care of!