For many people, a nearby park is an oasis of calm and a place to recharge. Whether to take in the fragrant smells of spring, hike a short trail or relax under the shade of a massive tree, an urban park can be the only place where many urban dwellers connect with the natural world. Yet our urban forests and open spaces are often under threat of neglect.
Thanks to the labor (and love) provided by volunteer Stewards in six Puget Sound cities participating in the Green City Partnerships, these urban oases are making a comeback. Stewards are young and old, mothers and fathers, students and retirees. They are residents concerned with improving their community—on a tangible scale and with their own hands. And they are having a big impact.
Collectively they contribute thousands of hours of work each year to care for the natural spaces we all cherish. Stewards typically commit to two years of working with a specific park but many get hooked and end volunteering for longer.
“Working in the forest is fun. You always find new things like the emergence of starflowers and trilliums, or the discovery of a Coopers Hawk’s nest,” said Lex Verhooeve, a Steward at Carkeek Park in Seattle. “Of course my personal motivation is to have a good workout in the forest. What can beat that?”
Stewards’ work is essential to the health of our forested parklands and other public natural areas. Unless removed and kept at bay, aggressive invasive plants will take over parks—leaving no space for a healthy tree canopy to grow.
Some things are hard to come by for busy struggling and stressed city families, like a walk in the woods, a quiet sit by a babbling creek…
“We’ve transformed this once dying, garbage covered, overnight hangout into a forest making its way back to health that supports and nurtures the future forest stewards of the city—the children who play in the woods. It’s now being integrated into the school curriculum of neighboring Leschi Elementary,” said Janna Robbins, Steward of Peppi’s Woods in Seattle.
More and more studies emphasize the importance of nature to people’s health and well-being.** Just being outside under tree cover has proven to reduce stress and improve creativity, memory and cognitive function. As our cities rapidly grow, our few natural refuges are all the more critical.
Stewards’ work is amplified because they make it possible for thousands of others to participate—their consistent presence leads projects forward and enables volunteers to drop in for work parties coordinated by Stewards. What results is a volunteer corps thousands strong that restores hundreds of acres of parks and opens spaces throughout the Puget Sound.
The volunteer Steward program grows each year. If you live in Seattle, Kirkland, Kent, Redmond, Tacoma, or Everett and have interest in helping restore our urban oases email firstname.lastname@example.org.
** FURTHER READING
Urban forests save lives, analysis finds, Vancouver Sun