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News / Clark County News

Volunteers get down, dirty at Vancouver’s Water Resources Education Center

City-led event helps clear garden, maintain native habitat

By Griffin Reilly, Columbian staff writer
Published: February 18, 2023, 8:45pm
7 Photos
Volunteers Maya Markillie, left, and Vera Marez remove rocks from soil to make room for new native plants outside the city of Vancouver's Water Resources Education Center on Saturday morning.
Volunteers Maya Markillie, left, and Vera Marez remove rocks from soil to make room for new native plants outside the city of Vancouver's Water Resources Education Center on Saturday morning. (Griffin Reilly/The Columbian) Photo Gallery

In the world of gardening, some days you get to plant flowers and enjoy the sun. And some days you have to get down in the dirt.

Saturday demanded the latter.

A group of volunteers, organized by the city of Vancouver, worked Saturday morning to clear weeds, excess roots and rocks from the garden outside Vancouver’s Water Resources Education Center. Mild temperatures and a persistent light drizzle kept the soil fresh, but not too muddy. Nobody seemed to mind.

“I’ve got my own garden, but they needed help on this today,” said Vera Marez, who, poised on all fours, worked relentlessly to dig out rocks to make room for new native plants. “So my gardening at home can wait.”

Marez and about a dozen others of all ages worked throughout the garden, mostly removing thickets of ivy and piles of leaves from garden pathways so that it’s ready for visitors come spring. Once the spaces were cleared, volunteers added more soil and planted native plants like ferns, Oregon grape, rushes and more.

The goal, according to project leader Ashley Conley, is for the garden to continue serving as a “backyard habitat,” meaning it features plants that are native to Southwest Washington and that can adequately support stormwater drainage and local wildlife. Most of the work they’ll do involves removing Himalayan blackberry and English ivy, to name just two harmful weeds.

“It’s not just a cleanup; it’s a learning opportunity,” said Jean Avery, a volunteer clearing leaves Saturday.

When she’s not volunteering or gardening (or, in this case, a combination of the two), Avery leads a hiking group for those ages 50 and older called Forever Young. In July, the group has a 5-mile trip planned along the Columbia River Renaissance Trail in Vancouver; she hopes to convince the group to take a detour to see the work she and others have done at the Water Resources Education Center’s garden.

Laurie Andrews, another experienced gardener volunteering Saturday, worked quickly to tear excess roots from the soil — some nearly the length of herself. She pointed out that some of the roots, though caked in mud and seemingly useless to the untrained eye, could make great basket-weaving material.

“I’m a from-scratch gardener. I make my own soil and try not to buy anything. I mainly try to plant things I can eat,” she said, laughing.

After a period of isolation during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, Andrews said she’s looking forward to participating in more volunteer planting and gardening events like Saturday’s.

“I like to do this a few times a year, often as part of the ‘stream team,’” she said. “But I do it mainly to fill my time and to be with other people.”

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