Cleaning Up Campen Creek

Washougal High students, city workers partner with Watershed Alliance to restore local creek habitat

Contributed photo courtesy Janet Grove Washougal High School Advanced Placement environmental science students pose for a photo while planting native plants alongside Campen Creek in Washougal on Friday, May 5.

Washougal High School Advanced Placement environmental science students plant native plants riday, May 5, 2023, near the banks of Campen Creek in Washougal. (Contributed photo courtesy of Janet Grove)

Contributed photo courtesy Janet Grove Micayla Jones, the Watershed Alliance of Southwest Washington's volunteer coordinator (far right), talks to Washougal High School Advanced Placement environmental science students about planting native plants alongside Campen Creek in Washougal on Friday, May 5.

Washougal High School Advanced Placement environmental science students plant native plants May 5, 2023, alongside Campen Creek in Washougal.

The city of Washougal, Watershed Alliance of Southwest Washington (WASW) and Washougal School District recently joined forces to enhance the riparian habitat at Campen Creek.

With the help of City and WASW employees, 64 Washougal High School Advanced Placement environmental science students planted 242 native plants, including slough sedge, spreading rush, Douglas spirea, stink currant, Douglas aster, riverbank lupine, and kinnikinnik, along a stretch of the creek at the intersection of 39th and “M” streets, near the Washougal High campus, on Friday, May 5.

“It was an amazing experience to participate alongside the Washougal High School students and to hear about their lesson plan that focused on the benefits of a healthy riparian ecosystem,” said Sean Mulderig, the City’s stormwater program supervisor. “I am grateful for the collaborative effort with the Water Alliance, and I found it very fulfilling to help provide this hands-on experience for the students. It was especially rewarding to see some of them plant their first native species.”

City staff said the collaborative project aimed to “provide a hands-on learning experience for the students” and “complements the City’s broader community engagement efforts (by fostering) a sense of shared responsibility and collaboration in promoting a sustainable and healthy environment for all.”

The City planned to perform streambank repair work at Campen Creek and obtained a hydraulic project approval permit, which mandates recipients to plant native riparian species along streambanks to mitigate any potential environmental impacts, from the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) in September 2022.

The WASW, which had received $10,000 in September 2021, from the Vancouver-based Norman C. Danielson Foundation to perform restoration education and volunteer work in the Camas-Washougal area, was also seeking a suitable location to conduct a similar project.

“We researched (Campen Creek) and found out that it was on city of Washougal property, so we reached out to the City and found out that they were actually going through a process to work … where we wanted to work,” said Sunrise O’Mahoney, WASW’s executive director. “It worked out really well. It was a perfect partnership.”

The Watershed Alliance then contacted Washougal High AP environmental science teacher Janet Grove to see if her students might be interested in joining the planting project.

“We’re trying to educate people about stormwater and runoff (and the importance of) native plants, so we felt like the best way to do that is to provide education in the classroom, then on the ground,” O’Mahoney said. “A lot of times, students become more invested (that way). They see it, it’s right in front of their school, they can watch it grow, they see the impact of what they’ve done. It just is a much broader, holistic approach, looking at how we can give kids a more comprehensive understanding of what they’re learning. We love doing it, and this (project) gave us the perfect opportunity to do it.”

Grove said she was very receptive to the idea.

“I thought the project was a perfect match for what we’re doing because it was so conveniently located right across the street,” Grove said. “It’s hard to take kids on field trips — buses are expensive, and coordination can be a challenge. But when we could just walk across the street, it was too good an opportunity to miss out on.”

The project also fit with the teacher’s curriculum.

“We were learning about what a watershed is, and the land uses on a watershed. We talked about invasive plants versus native plants,” Grove said. “And we just did a unit about water quality and learned about the Clean Water Act and how it regulates point and nonpoint source pollution. (We were able) to put all of that into action.”

The City developed and submitted a mitigation plan to the WDFW, prepared the site, set up traffic control and flagged the new plants, while WASW staff members purchased the plants, developed a planting plan and worked with Washougal High to organize volunteer participation.

WASW volunteer coordinator Micayla Jones visited Grove’s four AP science classes May 4, to deliver a presentation about watershed health and restoration processes.

The next day, she told the students about the planting plan and the purpose of each plant species before leading them out to the site to begin their work.

“They had plants for everybody, they had shovels for everybody, they had gloves for everybody,” Grove said. “Every single one of my students who got their permission slip signed and wanted to participate was able to dig a hole and put a plant in the ground, so that was pretty great.”

Grove hopes that the project taught the students about “how things happen.”

“In school, you learn that things happen, and that they have happened, but when you’re sitting in a room and the teacher’s telling you stuff, it’s not always clear how these things come to be,” she said. “To actually be a part of it and meet the people who are making it happen, they kind of understand that this is how things happen. I think that’s part of growing up, coming to understand how things happen in the world.”

Jones said the students enjoyed the experience.

“I had engagement during the education component in the classroom, but then as soon as we stepped outside of the school and approached the site, you could just see a shift in their faces,” said Jones, who organized the event. “It was like a switch flipped, and they were really excited and even more engaged. And once you put a shovel in a high school student’s hands, it’s a game-changer. They just have a lot of fun when they get to use tools and dig holes. The engagement and excitement level just kept building, so that was really cool to see.”

The WASW is a Vancouver-based nonprofit that strives to empower community members to protect and restore Southwest Washington’s waterways and natural areas for the benefit of current and future generations. It defines a watershed as an area of land that catches rain and snow, and drains or seeps into a wetland, stream, river, lake or groundwater.

“The (Campen Creek) creekside has been shifted around with development, and there is a lot of runoff and things like that running into the creek, so putting in native plants really helps to alleviate pollution and runoff from the streets,” Jones said. “It also increases biodiversity. Having more plants along there will help filter out that pollution, and it will also help shade the creek and regulate the water temperature. It will raise the water quality, which has an effect on aquatic wildlife and also humans who use the water. Water, I believe, is our greatest natural resource, so projects (that) improve water quality do have a positive effect on us all.”

Grove and O’Mahoney both said that they value community partnerships and will continue to seek them out in the future for additional project opportunities.

“We all live in or near the community, and to find more ways to connect and collaborate (is a great thing),” Grove said. “This is my first year teaching AP environmental science class, but I am hoping to teach it next year as well, and to have these connections (is invaluable). The more we can work together, the more we can create opportunities for our kids.”