On a cool, cloudy Saturday in March, people gathered at a special place to pay homage to loved ones and tribute to a sustainable future.
At the Pt. Rediscovery site on Hamm Creek, community members joined DIRT Corps, DRCC’s Duwamish Valley Youth Program, I’m A PAL Foundation, and other partners to continue forest and wetland restoration on open space owned by King County.
This is open space with a story to tell. Environmental activist John Beal once likened the area to the war-damaged Vietnam where he served and was wounded as a Marine. Beginning in the 1980’s Hamm Creek became Beal’s sanctuary, where he could restore nature and himself. Hamm Creek has served that role for many others since.
On March 25, 30 people came to replace invasive plants with natives and to plant a tree in honor of a loved one. Liana Beal attended to remember her father, whose name now dignifies an honor: the John Beal Environmental Stewardship Volunteer Awards.
King County Councilmember Joe McDermott joined the event not only to plant one of those trees, but also to praise a program that brings jobs and the environment together to create a sustainable future for underserved communities. Councilmember McDermott planted a native red flowering currant with assistance from a young volunteer.
The Duwamish Infrastructure Restoration Training (DIRT Corps) program is designed to build careers in green infrastructure. The structured program runs four 11-week sessions a year, developing skills in operations and maintenance, design, construction, and landscaping. Students attend class one evening a week and work at least one additional day in the field on projects including urban forestry, rain gardens, vegetated walls, and wetland restoration. Students earn a competitive stipend for their work and build a resume with their experience.
King County’s WaterWorks Grant Program provided $75,000 in funding to the DIRT Corps program to help trainees build career-worthy skills and experience while improving water quality.
DIRT Corps is the face of South Seattle’s diverse population, including a range of cultures, immigrants, veterans and under/unemployed people. The program cultivates skills and leadership in trainees who can find jobs building a healthy, vibrant future for underserved communities.
Graduate Andrew Schiffer says, “What’s been great about DIRT Corps is the hands-on experience. I’ve learned so many different things about wetlands, trees, green stormwater infrastructure.”
Katherine Shyi agrees, “Being in DIRT Corps has allowed me hands-on experience, and to directly have a connection with the community I live in. Working on a small bit of the earth, you can see how it contributes to the bigger overall picture.”
DIRT Corps members are a testament how the program builds leadership skills. On March 25, WaterWorks program manager Elizabeth Loudon observed how they coordinated the weed removal and planting activities and expertly demonstrated proper planting techniques in both Spanish and English.
“They ran the whole show,” Loudon said.
Says Schiffer, “DIRT Corps is a practical leadership program. I’ve become a leader in green stormwater and in my community. Before, I had no idea how to go about participating. Now I’m on the Georgetown Community Council.”
Itzan Santiago says that the DIRT Corps experience has helped her to connect with nature and build skills that will allow her to start her own landscaping company after moving from Mexico 10 years ago.
Schiffer finds that the training helps him to give back to his community. “At my job, I’m giving trees to people,” he says. “People love trees, and I’m helping them to beautify their property. Increasing the canopy of Georgetown helps the health and wellness of residents and supports the environmental justice needs of the neighborhood.”
Shyi discovered that a natural environment connects people. “In the city there’s lots of stress and pressure, but not a lot of opportunities to connect with nature. Nature doesn’t judge, there are no pretenses, and when you go there, you can meet people from any walk of life.”
DIRT Corps trainees learned to appreciate John Beal’s foresight naming Pt. Rediscovery decades ago when he first saw beauty and promise under mounds of trash.
This hidden urban wilderness amazes Katherine Shyi. “Point Rediscovery is a diamond in the rough. I passed it a million times without knowing it existed. You would never know there’s such a beautiful place in such an urbanized area.”
“I fell in love with it,” she continues. “It’s relaxing being there, and there’s so much wildlife: salmon, beavers, and animals I don’t even know the names of, like a huge salamander.”
Schiffer concurs. “Point Rediscovery is one of my favorite sites. It’s a place I can go to whenever—a wild place in my own community.”