BOWMAN BAY — Bracing against the wind at Deception Pass State Park’s Bowman Bay, 10-year-old EmmaLee Grove put the force of her entire body into digging a hole on the beach’s newly restored shoreline.
When the hole was sufficiently deep, EmmaLee and her best friend Kadence Yonkman placed the roots of a small, leafless tree — which they had named Wilbur — into it, then covered the roots with rich, dark gray mud.
“I think Wilbur’s going to be happy,” EmmaLee said.
Nearby, about 70 Fidalgo Elementary School students planted other trees, shrubs and ground cover.
“We’re rebuilding the habitat for animals and bugs,” Kadence said.
That morning, Fidalgo’s three classes of fifth-graders were the first student group to help restore habitat at Bowman Bay. Three more classes from Island View Elementary School headed to the beach in the afternoon.
“We really just want to re-create the entire ecosystem,” said Lisa Kaufman, Northwest Straits Foundation nearshore program manager. “The habitat (then) can do what it wants to do and what it needs to do.”
The fifth-graders’ work to restore the beach came after a three-day trip to the North Cascades Institute’s Mountain School.
The beach restoration provided the perfect opportunity to bring what the students learned at Mountain School full circle.
“This is a chance to bring those lessons closer to home,” North Cascades Institute Communications Coordinator Christian Martin said. “Nature’s not out there, far away and something you have to drive to. It’s right in your own backyard.”
The experience of Mountain School and beach restoration tied in nicely with what the students are learning in classes about ecology and the environment.
“It’s just an incredible, hands-on, outdoor, real-world application of the science standards they would have to learn in a classroom anyway,” said teacher Barbara Meaders.
As fourth-graders, the students planted green beans from seeds, said science teacher Kristen Downs. She hoped the beach restoration project would help further their understanding of ecosystems.
“It’s good to see them using what they learned in a different kind of way,” Downs said.
Ten-year-old Marley Baker said he thought the plants would do well on the beach.
“It has a lot of the ‘LAWS,’ which are light, air, water and soil,” he said.
The restoration work is important to help the beach and its wildlife thrive, Kaufman said.
By planting shrubs and other plants, marine life, such as surf smelt, will have more places to spawn, she said. The smelt are a food source for local salmon.
“The salmon need more places to live,” EmmaLee said.
The students planted several types of plants, including native roses, Oregon grapes, snow berry and salal. This created more of a “soft shore” than the previous rocky shoreline, Deception Pass State Park Manager Jack Hartt said.
The new shoreline also makes the beach more accessible, he said.
“With the rocks, it was nearly impossible for people to get to the beach,” Hartt said. “With the restoration, people will be able to get to the beach easier.”
Which is important to EmmaLee, especially since she needs to keep an eye on Wilbur.
“This park is right next to these kids’ schools,” Mountain School Program Coordinator Chris Girard said. “It’s a place they can come back to.”