Amber Giroux
Internship Final Report

Backyard Stream Team

My internship with the Backyard Stream Team has been a great experience so far. I have really enjoyed doing hands on work in the community. The majority of the time I have spent so far has been working on the restoration of a wetland at Fort Walla Walla Park. The work there entails planting native plants and removing invasive ones such as blackberry and reed canary grass. The goal of this project is to allow the native plants to prosper and get to the size where the weeds can no longer kill them. This is difficult because of the resilience of weeds such as reed canary grass. At first I was a bit daunted by this project, and especially by the presence of the Frisbee players in this area of the park, who frequently walk through the wetland to retrieve Frisbees. However, now I am really seeing the difference we are making, as well as the difference people such as Judith Johnson have already made in areas next to Garrison Creek. One of the major successes of this internship has been the amount of Whitman students recruited to work on the wetland. We have had six to seven large work parties that have proved very productive.

I really value the work that the Backyard Stream Team is doing in Walla Walla. Unfortunately, I get the feeling that the larger community does not appreciate the importance of taking care of the streams. This is based on experiences Judith has told me about in her interactions with homeowners. We spent a couple days driving around to follow Yellowhawk Creek, and I was astonished by how close most of the houses were to the stream. I later found out that this has a lot to do with the amount of power the developers and realtors have in Walla Walla. We ended up making a brochure that we have sent to all the homeowners along Yellowhawk Creek in order to make people more aware of the issues going on right in their backyards, and hopefully that will spark some interest in some people. It would great if the streams being a subject of discussion amongst these neighbors so that these issues can be recognized at least.

One big problem I see in this internship is the amount of people involved. I have met only two other people involved in the Stream Team, besides Whitman students. Judith Johnson has really taken on a huge project upon herself which is highly admirable. But this also creates problems for the amount of work possible because she is afterall only one person. She is also busy at times with other community projects and cannot always accommodate for the needs and desires of people like me doing an internship with her, and if I was ever too busy she would understand. Overall, I have really enjoyed working with Judith Johnson.

I think this would be an excellent internship for someone to work on next semester. The feedback that we get from the brochures could be a starting point for someone next semester. The goal is to form Yellowhawk Streamkeepers, a concerned group of citizens who live on or near Yellowhawk Creek. Hopefully this will get some people to change any behaviors that are detrimental to the stream such as illegal dumping of lawn waste etc. Judith is also planning to restore three backyards in Walla Walla and someone could help restore those.

There are many recommendations for things that could be done to improve the wetland at Fort Walla Walla Park. First of all, there should be some effort towards moving the Frisbee golf tee that is so close to the wetland as the location of it often causes Frisbees to be carried into the wetland. Then people wander into the wetland searching for their disc and may not be aware of all the plants around them. Sending a letter to the editor of the Union Bulletin would be a good idea to address the subject, and then contacting the Parks Department would be another action to take. Also making a fence could help, but I think people would still go in for their Frisbees. We have often talked about making a sign for the wetland, to make passersby aware of the project and what we are trying to do. Then there is the basic maintenance on the wetland itself, weeding and planting that will need to be done next spring.

I would highly recommend this internship to anyone who is interested in issues of water rights or stream and wetland health, and people who like to get their hands dirty. It’s also great if you’re interested in different ways of viewing the environment. In the case of Walla Walla, if the streams were more visible, as opposed to being hidden by homeowners’ fences, would they be better protected? If people recognized Yellowhawk Creek as they went to work everyday, would they be more concerned about the health of it? Streams and rivers are an incredibly important part of any ecosystem that needs to be recognized, and we can help to make these gradual changes in the way people view them.