From The Olympian
January 16, 2023
By Ty Vinson
Summit Desmarteau has been running and hiking in the woods near Thurgood Marshall Middle School in Olympia for three years now. But when he returned to school after last summer, he was devastated to see half of the wooded area was cut down. On Friday, Jan. 13, Desmarteau joined nearly half the student population at his school to replant native shrubs, trees and more on more than 20 acres of logged land. There were nearly 200 people in total helping with the operation next to Cooper Crest Open Space, including folks from Olympia Coalition for Ecosystem Preservation and the Native Plant Salvage Foundation. The work party was part of a mission to restore the once-entirely forested area. The property was clear cut in June, its timber sold for profit and the property put back on the market. Thurgood Marshall Middle School principal Anthony Brock said it was a horrible situation but also a blessing, since students can now help bring it back to life. This was the second time Desmarteau had been out to the property to help plant, but the first time he had been part of a large group effort. He’s used to coming out there with some of his classmates, though.
Teachers Matthew Phillippy and Tom Condon run a Citizen Science Institute, or CSI for short. They work with students on field investigations and service learning projects. Teachers take students to the Cooper Crest Open Space for ecology classes and lessons on salmon. Desmarteau has been in the school’s natural history class for two years. The school also has a greenhouse and native plant nursery, which supplied 900 plants for Friday morning’s planting in the rain. The school sells the plants to groups such as the Olympia Coalition for Ecosystem Preservation, and the proceeds go right back into the school. But planting the native vegetation will benefit the school and neighborhood beyond that. Desmarteau said if they weren’t out there plotting and replanting the ground, it could see major erosion and landslides. After all, it sits atop a hill that’s also Olympia’s highest point. “It’s good to know I’m coming back here and I’m helping this ecosystem get revived to what it was before the clear cut,” Desmarteau said.
Eighth-grader Torin Biswas said students were out doing the work to observe Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. He said there were several other groups volunteering out in the community at elementary schools, food banks and more. But he said doing work at Cooper Crest was vital; the ground needs to be stable before more rain can bring the chance of mudslides. There’s a cutting of a coastal redwood from what’s known as a champion tree, or one recognized for its large size, that’s being planted in the new forest. Sitting atop the highest point in Olympia, it’ll grow to one day have one of the best views of Mount Rainier in the region.