Growing in Nature

This summer Great Peninsula Conservancy (GPC) piloted a new program called Bremerton Urban Roots, which created opportunities for young people in Bremerton to learn about the environment through hands-on service projects and outdoor environmental experiences.

GPC partnered with the New Life Community Development Agency’s Living Life Leadership youth mentorship program, run by the incredible Karen Vargas, to create a community garden and run a summer camp.

We had a big garden work party where a wonderful group of kids, parents, and community members came out to help. Many thanks to the following organizations for their donations:
Scott Mclendon’s Hardware, A&L Topsoil, Fred Meyer, Henery Hardware, Lowe’s, Jimmy John’s, and Kitsap Transit VanLink.

Together we helped turn an empty field into a beautiful fruit and vegetable garden with blueberries, strawberries, grapes, zucchini, lettuce, tomatoes and a host of other veggies.

Over the course of the summer the kids helped water the garden, pick off caterpillars, kill aphids, and apply organic fertilizers and pesticides. They also got to take home fresh basil, green beans, tomatoes, and other veggies.

In addition to the garden, we also had over 30 kids join us for outdoor experiences, and we went on 16 field trips to local parks and nature preserves in the area. Over the summer the kids learned about gardening, wildlife, water quality, native plants and invasive species. We met with park rangers, farmers, biologists and other environmental professionals who helped teach the kids about nature and also talked to them about careers in nature. The kids learned new skills, like how to use a compass and map to find their way around the woods. We also played lots of nature-themed games.

On our first day, we walked down to Evergreen Park and did a team-building exercise and a scavenger hunt. Things didn’t all go smoothly this first day, but one thing I knew from the very start is that this group of kids have heart. As we had lunch under a picnic shelter one student after another took some of the snacks, drinks, and lunch we had and brought them over to a homeless man sleeping nearby. They did this many times over the course of the summer. I knew right away that this was a group of kids who care about other people, care about their community, and care about making Bremerton a better place.

One of my favorite days was when we went to Kitsap Memorial Park to explore the tidepools there at low tide. The kids found tons of shore crabs hiding under rocks, including a few giant crabs in the water. We met with Brenna Mack, a park ranger at Kitsap Memorial Park, and learned about the many uses of stinging nettles, including to treat allergies and arthritis. We learned how to harvest stinging nettles safely, using gloves and clippers. We even made stinging nettle tea over a campfire at the park, and sweetened it with red huckleberries we found growing nearby. Not everyone liked the taste of the tea, but everyone was adventurous enough to give it a try at least once.

The biggest highlight of the summer was a kayak trip to the Dosewallips Estuary on the western shore of the Hood Canal led by the incredible guides at Kayak Brinnon. For most of the students this was their first time kayaking, and for many it was their first time being on a boat other than the ferry. It was a rough start when we first set out in  quiet harbor in tandem kayaks, with lots of crossed paddles and many boats colliding into each other as the kids learned to work together to paddle and steer the kayaks.

Over the course of the summer we saw so much growth in these students in how they learned to work together, respectfully resolve conflict, praise each other for good work, take care of the environment, and become leaders.

At the end of the program, several students shared that they used to not like going out in the woods or being in nature, but now they do. Lots of students also talked about how this program gave them a better awareness of how the environment is important to our health, and why we need to help care for natural areas.

It has been a great pleasure to work with this amazing group of young people, and I can’t wait to see how they continue to grow in the year ahead.