Students from the Naselle Youth Camp in Washington state planted the final seeds Friday in a restoration project near Dismal Nitch.
Six students and two instructors, partnered with Lewis and Clark National Historical Park and the Columbia River Estuary Study Taskforce, sifted in the rain through the frigid, muddy east bank of Megler Creek to plant native species such as thimbleberry, red twig dogwood and tufted hairgrass.
The youth camp houses 80 students who have progressed through the juvenile justice program. The Washington State Department of Natural Resources funds a program that allows about 30 of them to be paid for outdoor projects. Students at the camp work 40 hours per week on similar projects in the area and also attend 20 hours of night classes. Some also participate in a Native American culture group at the camp and volunteered for the six-hour project on Friday, instructor Rudi Rudolph said.
“This kind of fits with the idea of restorative justice and giving back to the community,” Rudolph said.
Friday’s endeavor was the final wedge in a months-long, $1 million project funded equally by CREST and the park to restore the creek. After Washington State Route 401 was built in the early 1900s, the creek was largely cut off from tidal flow from the Columbia River. A 48-inch pipe under the road — only accessible to fish during high tides — was the sole connection to the larger river.
Part of the project included building a 25-foot culvert under the road. More water flowed through the area, allowing project workers to redirect the stream and allow more fish to swim, feed and span. The roadwork phase of the project likely will be completed by March, said Jason Smith, a CREST habitat restoration project manager.
Derrick McCraigie, 18, is from Omak, where he lived on the Colville Indian Reservation. While at the camp, he said he has been able to share aspects of his tribe’s culture such as the Salish language and specific games the tribes play.
“I wanted to teach people about Native Americans with my knowledge and experience,” he said.
Other students — like Ronald Lenderman, 18, of Vancouver, Washington — joined the group to learn about and become more involved with Native American culture. As a recreational fisherman, Lenderman said he could relate to Native Americans’ close connections to the environment and any projects that allow more access for fish.
“I just really like the culture,” he said. “I feel really connected with it.”