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Volunteers dig in for MLK Day projects

Cynthia Wilkerson along with her sons Remy Novack, 4, and his brother Leopold Novack, 7, volunteer their Martin Luther King Jr. holiday by planting native trees and shrubs at the Allison Springs reserve on Monday, Jan. 18. One of numerous service events offered throughout the region on Monday, the project was hosted by the Capitol Land Trust organization and City of Olympia.
Cynthia Wilkerson along with her sons Remy Novack, 4, and his brother Leopold Novack, 7, volunteer their Martin Luther King Jr. holiday by planting native trees and shrubs at the Allison Springs reserve on Monday, Jan. 18. One of numerous service events offered throughout the region on Monday, the project was hosted by the Capitol Land Trust organization and City of Olympia. sbloom@theolympian.com

Thurston County had no shortage of volunteer opportunities on Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

Olympia resident Cynthia Wilkerson and her sons — Remy Novack, 4, and Leopold Novack, 7 — decided to get dirty on their day off work and school.

On Monday, they joined about 25 volunteers to remove invasive English ivy and blackberry bushes at the 43-acre Allison Springs estuary. Volunteers, In addition to carting wheelbarrows of mulch, planted nearly 300 trees and shrubs such as Indian plum, crabapple, red cedar and salal.

“This is going to keep the water clean and it’s good for the animals,” said Wilkerson, who works as a conservation biologist for the state. “It’s about making the natural world a better place.”

The city-owned estuary is located near McLane Elementary School at the end of Eld Inlet. The Capitol Land Trust, which owns the adjacent 6-acre Randall Preserve, helped lead Monday’s volunteer activities.

Elena Gonick, 17, volunteered Monday as part of a community service requirement for her environmental science class at Olympia High School. It marked the first time Gonick has been to the estuary, where she got a glimpse of wildlife, including an otter and a hawk.

“It’s really beautiful out here,” said Gonick, a senior who plans to major in biology in college.

In 1994, federal legislation made Monday’s holiday into a day of volunteer service that honors the civil rights icon’s vision of creating a “beloved community.” The Allison Springs work party was among several outdoor volunteer gatherings in the area on Monday.

In the West Bay Woods off Rogers Street, about 30 people showed up for ivy removal and tree planting to help the Olympia Coalition for Ecosystems Preservation.

The nonprofit organization was launched in 2014 to protect the colony of great blue herons that have nested in the woods for decades. Monday’s work session was part of an ongoing effort to restore the woods.

Volunteers hacked at holly trees as well as English ivy that blankets the ground, choking plant life and creeping up the trunks of 100-year-old big-leaf maples. Volunteers planted native species such as red cedars, sword ferns and Oregon grape shrubs.

The group’s weekly work parties will continue on Saturdays until the herons return in mid-February to build their nests.

Dan Einstein, who helped start the organization, said volunteers will work “as long as it takes” to restore the habitat and keep it viable for future generations of wildlife and residents.

“It’s not hard to see the potential here,” he said, gazing past the canopy of trees at West Bay and Mount Rainier in the distance. “Our commitment is to preserve this forever.”

Andy Hobbs: 360-704-6869, @andyhobbs

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