New life for Snow Lake: Mount Si Advanced Placement students restore wild watershed

Students in Mount Si High School’s AP Environmental Science class, above, hike up a trail. Below, they work with the US Forest Service, in the Snow Lake watershed.  - Courtesy photo
Students in Mount Si High School’s AP Environmental Science class, above, hike up a trail. Below, they work with the US Forest Service, in the Snow Lake watershed.
— image credit: Courtesy photo

Students in Mount Si High School’s Advanced Placement (AP) Environmental Science class, taught by Shannon Wenman, upheld a long-standing tradition this fall by participating in the Snow Lake Watershed Restoration Project.

The project is a joint effort between the Wilderness and Trails Program at the Snoqualmie Ranger Station (US Forest Service) and the science and horticulture programs at Mount Si High School. Since the partnership formed 26 years ago in 1988, more than 1,500 Snoqualmie Valley students have been involved in this project.

This service-learning project connects to the ecology section of the AP Biology and AP Environmental science class curricula. It demonstrates how many of the ecological concepts and principles students have learned in class (such as plant succession, animal and plant adaptations, species diversity and richness, community structure and function and conservation biology) are being applied in the field. Horticulture students learn about the propagation and care of native plants and the associated skills for growing and caring for subalpine plants.

The Snow Lake watershed drains into the Middle Fork of the Snoqualmie River and is part of the Alpine Lakes Wilderness. This popular hiking destination brings about 30,000 visitors during the snow-free period between late July and early October. The trailhead is within an hour’s drive of 2.5 million people and a five-minute drive to the Alpental parking lot from exit 52 on I-90. Due to high use, the area is experiencing loss of solitude, extensive trampling of vegetation and soil erosion.

Since the mid 1980’s, students from Mount Si have been assisting the Forest Service with restoration efforts within the Snow Lake Basin. These efforts include the collection of native plant cuttings and seeds, and the propagation of this material in the greenhouse at the high school. With the propagation efforts, overseen by Mount Si’s horticulture teacher Nick Kurka, the plants have a year to put on growth in the school’s greenhouse versus three months to grow in the subalpine environment of the lake basin. In the fall, students carry the plants up the trail and plant them in areas that need to be re-vegetated.

AP Environmental Science and Biology students learn about the Ranger station’s land management challenges for this designated wilderness area. Prior to the trip, they watch a slide show about the physical, biological and cultural history of the area and surrounding Alpine Lakes Wilderness. During the trip, students visit the restoration sites and learn about their history. They see the outcome of the restoration treatments and become an intricate part of the 30-year restoration efforts.

Teachers report that the shared experience leads to a more cohesive class throughout the year.

“What is surprising is how many students have never been to this area before,” said one science teacher.

Involvement in this project empowers students as future stewards to care for this special place and cultivates in them a “land ethic” that will hopefully extend beyond the boundaries of this particular watershed.

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