Garrison Creek Internship
This semester I worked with Judy Johnson of the Backyard Stream team
to learn about the restoration project on Garrison Creek at Fort Walla Walla
Park. Overall, I learned a lot about stream restoration and coordinating environmental
projects. However, I encountered many problems in this internship. The three
objectives Judy and I set at the beginning of this internship were to perform
water quality monitoring at several points along Garrison Creek, conduct informal
interviews with park users and volunteers regarding their opinions of the restoration
project and their use of Garrison Creek, and to help get volunteers for several
workdays. Judy and I typically met for a half hour or an hour each week to discuss
my progress and to learn about the Garrison Creek project.
The first objective was very problematic. After reading the summary of the internship, I assumed that the organizations I was involved with would have the equipment I would need to monitor the water quality on Garrison. However this was not the case. Consequently it took me the first half of the semester to track down the appropriate equipment. I had to borrow equipment from three professors in three departments. The equipment I needed was: a HACH kit, water quantity measuring equipment, pH meters, a dissolved oxygen reader, and several other tools. I also had to obtain lab space in which to store everything. Much of this delay was due to slow response times from the people I was borrowing from. The original goal was to monitor three sites at Garrison Creek: the Division Works where Garrison splits off of Mill Creek, a spot at the very top of Fort Walla Walla Park, and a spot at the very bottom of Fort Walla Walla Park. These sites were selected to try and see if the project site itself was having any affect on the water quality. I would test for nutrients, turbidity, flow, pH, temperature, dissolved oxygen, and microinvertibrates. Nutrients were rules out because it would be too expensive to obtain the chemicals required to test for them. Microinvertibrates were also dropped because that would have required an immense amount of time. I investigated monitoring for PCBs, since Garrison Creek has had problems with them in the past, but this would have been too expensive as well.
After I had tracked down the equipment, I ran into several other problems; mainly bad weather and car problems. Consequently, I only got to take one data set from the three sites on Garrison Creek. My results were pretty much what I expected; there was little difference in the three sites. From the beginning I had guessed that the restoration was still too recent for it to have actually made a noticeable difference. The data I collected can be used as baseline data for future projects. Even though I was not able to meet my objective as well as I had hoped, I still learned a lot from this experience. Tracking down the equipment showed me some of the problems nonprofit projects have with funding and obtaining scientific data. I also had to expand upon my knowledge of water quality monitoring by learning how to use equipment I had not used before and researching valid water sampling techniques.
My second objective was to take informal interviews of volunteers and park users. The primary goal here was to get a sense of public opinion and knowledge of the project. The questions I used during these taped interviews were:
How often do you come out to the park?
What kind of things do you do here?
How much do you know about the creek restoration project here?
How important is this project to you?
Does having a healthy creek make the park more enjoyable for you?
Would you change your activities to protect project sites like this? (i.e. where you walk, where your dog goes)
Do you think restoration projects are important in general?
I conducted these interviews during the tree planting days on the weekend.
I obtained six tape-recorded interviews. The majority of these were of volunteers
helping us plant trees. I attempted to get more diverse interviews, but most
of the park users I asked were unwilling to be interviewed. My results showed
that all of the people I interviewed supported the project, but many (about
half) were unaware of the project until they volunteered. Several people said
they were unwilling to change their activities to protect these areas.
I feel that this area of my internship was fairly successful. While I was unable to obtain a wide variety of interviewees, I was still able to highlight some of the areas the Stream Team needs work on, particularly public education and outreach. I also feel I gained some valuable experience from conducting these interviews. I had to create the research questions, which needed to draw out the interviewee’s opinion and get them to talk about it. I also discovered some of the problems researchers face when conducting interviews, such as rejection. I feel that conducting these interviews helped give me some insight into a possible future career in sociology.
My last objective was to recruit and participate in volunteer workdays on Garrison Creek. These workdays were used to weed portions of the site and replant the freshly cleared section of Garrison Creek with over a thousand native plants. I feel that this part of my internship was by far the most successful. I worked with Erin Guthrie to help recruit Whitman students for about eight workdays. For the second half of the semester, I attended and brought Whitties to a workday either one or both days each weekend for a three-hour planting session. We managed to plant about 90% of the section over these weekends. Through these workdays I learned about species native to Walla Walla, how to plant a healthy riparian zone, and how to coordinate and operate volunteer projects like the one at Garrison. I think this last experience will certainly help me in the future in a job or in other projects like this one. I learned how to recruit volunteers and how to educate them in what needed to be done. I did encounter some problems with this objective as well. The first two weekends (four workdays) were extremely successful; we got about ten Whitman students to come out each day. However, as the semester wore on, the volunteers tapered off until I was only getting one or two for the last two weekends. This was understandable since everyone was getting very busy with the end of school, so I am not too disappointed.
Through working with Judy I learned a great deal about restoration projects and non-profit projects in general. In the first half of the semester, we met with representatives from the US Fish and Wildlife Service, the Public Parks office of the Walla Walla, and an independent contractor who was involved in removing the non-native weeds from the site. Meeting with these people from various groups showed me the coordination that has to go into projects like this and the number of groups that have to be involved to successfully carry out a restoration project. I also learned about the financial restrictions that a nonprofit project faces. Judy shared with me several of the choices she had to make throughout the process, such as choosing to spend less money on in-stream structures and more on planting upstream at the park. I also saw firsthand the problems that a restoration project faces in an urban area. During our visits to the park we saw children and dogs playing the in creek and riparian zones. We also noted that the stakes used to hold up the new plants had all been removed.
This internship was of great value to me. I learned a lot about coordinating projects that I will be able to take to future jobs and other endeavors in my life. I do have some recommendations if this internship is to be conducted again. First, the internship should be sponsored through the Backyard Stream Team. Mine was technically through the City of Walla Walla, but I never even met Hal Thomas, my initial sponsor. I feel that many of the problems I experienced were at least partially because Hal wrote the general internship summary, but left it up to Judy to actually designate what I should do. I feel that if the Stream Team were to conduct the internship, the intern would have more direction and be able to plan what they wanted to accomplish better. Second, it would have been nice if I had known earlier about sources where I could borrow equipment. I found out after I had tracked down the HACH kit that previous interns had borrowed one from a different professor. If I had known this, I may have been able to start sampling earlier. In general, I felt like my internship was too loosely defined. But despite many technical and organizational problems, I still learned a lot from this internship. I think that my efforts, especially in recruiting volunteers and assisting in the workdays, were a great value to the Garrison Creek restoration project.