Students receive hands-on restoration lesson at Issaquah Creek

April 13, 2011

By Warren Kagarise

Sarah Walker (right), of Issaquah, leads fellow Vista Academy seventh-graders Isaac Uselman, of Sammamish, and Elliott Moss, of Bellevue, along Issaquah Creek at Cybil-Madeline Park. By Greg Farrar

NEW — 1 p.m. April 13, 2011

The parkland stretching along Issaquah Creek along Rainier Boulevard North is often referred to as the crown jewel in the municipal parks system.

On Wednesday morning, more than 50 middle school students tromped across the dandelion-flecked grass and set about to polish the jewel.

The students trekked from Vista Academy, a private school on Cougar Mountain, to downtown Issaquah for the late-morning field trip. (The school serves many students from Issaquah and Newcastle, plus other King County cities.)

Then, the students split into teams and started yanking invasive plants — English ivy, Himalayan blackberry and the other usual suspects — from the creek bank.

The city is receiving help from partners, including the Mountains to Sound Greenway Trust, as officials prepare to start construction to transform the creekside land into a premier park.

Margaret Ullman, volunteer program manager for the organization, said the expedition offered students from the school a chance to discover a natural space nestled amid businesses and residences. The busy Darigold facility sits across the street from the site and the Issaquah School District Administration Building is located across the creek.

“They’re seeing these connections across the landscape that they wouldn’t otherwise be able to see,” Ullman said.

Anne Redfern, assistant to the head of school, said the relationship between Vista Academy and the organization is a “great fit” for the students.

In addition to helping the city prepare the site — formed from the adjacent Tollë Anderson, Cybil-Madeline and Issaquah Creek parks — students learned about the Issaquah Creek ecosystem.

“We find that, to connect people to the land, they have to get their hands dirty,” Ullman said.

Sally Kentch, education program manager for the Mountains to Sound Greenway Trust, said the program also helps to instill a lifelong appreciation for nature among the young stewards.

“I don’t think you can care about something unless you’ve been exposed to,” she said.

City Open Space Steward Matt Mechler said students’ effort, plus other volunteer projects, provide a valuable resource, especially as the city readies the land for construction.

“It’s more than what we could do on our own,” he added.

The landscape architect spearheading the project offered a bold proposal for the site late last year. The early design outlined boulders for climbing, meandering paths, community gardens and a horseshoe-shaped pedestrian bridge across Issaquah Creek and the East Fork.

The effort is the largest parks project since the city built Squak Valley Park South in 2008 and the most ambitious plan since the city laid the groundwork for Tibbetts Valley Park more than 20 years ago.

Construction is expected to start on the initial phase in 2012, after the city issues permits for the project, and municipal boards and the public adjust the design.

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