A charred patch of once beautiful mountain landscape adjacent to a gurgling creek is now looking a little greener thanks to the work of volunteers.
More than 500 Noble Fir seedlings were planted by members of the Rotary Club of Mercer Island and the White River Recreation Association (WRRA) on Sunday, Oct. 27 on Mount Baker at Goat Creek in the Snoqualmie National Forest. Sitting at an altitude of 3,000 feet, the site had previously been damaged by the Norse Peak Fire in 2017.
Mercer Island resident and Rotary Club member Eva Agrawal and her husband Yogi organized the event. The seedlings were raised in two private homes on Mercer Island. Agrawal said she thought everyone had a ton of fun.
“Nobody minded driving out there. It was exhilarating,” Agrawal said. “It’s such a beautiful spot with the creek and the rocks. It’s still very enchanting even after the fire damage.”
The pair had participated in similar tree planting events in the past. When the Rotary challenged its members to plant a tree, some rotarians knew about the Agrawals’ existing efforts, and thus thought of the idea to collaborate and all do plantings together. The Rotary Club’s Planet Earth Committee approved funding for the seedlings.
The group was hosted at the cabin of retired U.S. Army Gen. Clyde Cherberg and his wife Shirley, WRRA members and friends of the Agrawals, who provided lunch.
“They were most gracious hosts,” Agrawal said.
“I think it’s wonderful,” Cherberg said of the efforts.
He said he and Shirley, who live on Mercer Island, were thrilled to have the volunteers offer to do the work and they were happy to host them at their cabin.
“We made it a big deal. If they’re going to come up and do that, we’re going to treat them right,” he said. “It was just a grand affair. Everybody had a great time.”
The group met at the cabin for a briefing at 10 a.m. with coffee, bagels and cream cheese, and donuts. Lunch included beans, hot dogs and cookies.
“When the project was suggested by the Agrawals to reforest the area as a Rotarian project, I endorsed it. I highly encouraged them,” he said. “They did a tremendous job.”
Cherberg said that much of the area was burned in the Norse Peak Fire and that it came within about 500 feet of their cabin. The areas above them up at Goat Creek and Corral Pass, he said, were heavily burned.
He called the damage to some areas, “devastating.” Corral Pass, a popular hiking trail in the area, is still considered unsafe and remains closed.
He said they were fortunate not to experience personal damages from runoff caused by the loss of foliage.
He said the terrain, particularly with fallen timber, can be tough to manage. But despite that, the team completed the job ahead of schedule. It took them about two and a half hours, he said.
“There are very steep slopes. It can be very difficult to plant in many places. But they did a wonderful job,” he said. “As far as I know, this is the first of such a thing in that area.”
He said Shirley’s father built the cabin in 1930 and that the couple have been married since 1952. They go up to the cabin every year, and he said it is a special place to them.
“Many many thanks to the rotarians for taking this on,” he said.
Agrawal said the group had the proper authorization for the planting from the U.S. Forest Service. About 10 volunteers from each group, for a total of about 20 people, planted the trees. Agrawal said they were good planters and the work went fairly fast. It was a brisk, cold day, but the work warmed them. It warmed their hearts, too, she said.
One participating Mercer Island rotarian, John Howe, said it was an overall enjoyable experience.
“It was quite rewarding. It was physically far easier and simpler than I imagined, being 74 years old. This created a very positive, upbeat mood for the whole group of us,” Howe said. “It was a personally positive experience.”
He said his motivation comes from always having been an outdoors person and a love for the Northwest.
He said it’s important to him to be thinking about the environment and that planting in the forest where there’s a need contributes to the bigger picture. He is a member of the rotary’s Planet Earth Committee and said the club’s climate action thinking is a major reason he joined the Rotary about a year ago.
“Structure and a purpose and a means to make this contribution. That’s one of my main motivations,” he said.
He said he strongly agrees with their mission to think globally and act locally, and he hopes to get more people involved. He said the Rotary is looking into joining with other organizations to do more and more tree planting.
“It’s a way to start participating in solutions. If we can get everybody together in their individual steps we can make bigger and bigger leaps,” he said. “We hope to accomplish something. Not waiting for someone else to do it but get started ourselves. A lot of people think – climate change is a big global problem, how am I going to contribute to it?”
He said the experience was impressively organized, leadership did well, and it was educational, too. He enjoyed it so much that he said he plans to participate again.
There will be another planting Nov. 15 at Oak Creek Wildlife Area near Yakima during which an additional 500 trees will be planted. Agrawal said anyone interested in attending and helping out can learn more by contacting the Rotary Club.
“Planting trees is so important because the trees restore our environment, reduce runoff, and help recharge aquifers,” Agrawal said. “I love hiking. I love the forests.”
Cherberg said he hopes others will be inspired by the projects to go and plant their own trees as well.
“I would hope they would. It’s a living legacy that would last beyond them,” Cherberg said.
He fondly mentioned the work of the rotarians.
“They’re leaving a legacy. I know some of the rotarians have said they will keep coming back and take a look at their babies,” he said.