Moldy boots and blackberry roots; We can actually change the world!

Guest Post Written by Prestyn Sielaff, Grade 9, Glencoe High School

We see the signs. We see the posters. We even see it in the campaigns and elections. They always tell you, “Save the earth!” We always nod halfheartedly and put on a cheesy smile to continue on our way, telling ourselves that we do enough to keep the world green. We’ll just put a few extra cans in recycling today. Or we’ll switch to cloth grocery bags to keep the plastic bag count down. We’ll do this, we’ll do that.  Most of the time, however, this doesn’t happen. Or if it does, it only happens for a little while and then we stop. There is one particular person who learned a lesson on how to keep their world greener that will stick with them forever. And that one person is me.

I’m a pretty motivational person. If someone is enthusiastic about something, I will usually catch on but this time, I just wasn’t feeling it. Sure, talk about invasive plants and animals may sound cool, but when we actually had to stuff on moldy rubber boots and pile on the layers to get rid of them, my heart sank a little. Who in their right mind would want to slog through mud, in the typical pouring Oregon weather, to pull up a bunch of blackberries? Not me.

But I had to go along, and maybe I was a little curious to find out what all this idiocy was about. So, I sloshed through mud wearing a pair of bright green boots, with a hole in the left one, just like all the other kids. Again I asked myself, “who in their right mind would want to do something like this?” 

And then three shining faces greeted us for the first time, surprised to see so many high schoolers. Surprised, and probably, a little worried.

But they kept on smiling all throughout their presentations, while tearing out the cumbersome blackberries, and even while catching bugs. There was a nice feeling of sincerity in their voices as they would explain things, or just talk to us. And these were the people who answered my question before. They were the ones who will slog through mud, get their hands dirty, and green up our backyards. They were the ones, in their right minds, who would do almost anything to make the world we live in a little greener, a little better. They were SOLVE.

And now, thinking back on it and how much we did to improve Glencoe High’s property, I have to smile and congratulate myself.  Because I actually did something to make my world greener.

I did something that contributed to my and the rest of the world’s future. And I hope one day, SOLVE will be a regular activity in schools across the U.S. and possibly even the world, because if you can feel that feeling of pride in yourself knowing you helped make the world just a little bit better, it will stick with you forever and you can share it with the next person.

It will be a chain of events that can only go uphill from here. It will be a chain of events that will all link back to one small leap of courage to get a bunch of rowdy high schoolers into moldy rubber boots and show them that they have the power to save the world. That, with a little guidance, they can save a whole environment or habitat. One small, non-profit organization that is just doing it because they love it and want others to love it too. And with our help, they will be unstoppable. It will be all thanks to SOLVE.

Thank you to Clean Water Services for funding SOLVE’s work with Glencoe High School!

Time to Celebrate: West Side Student Summit

The hard work is over and now it is time to celebrate. Students part of SOLVE’s Green Team Program on the West Side of the Willamette have been working tirelessly all year- learning about riparian ecology and doing active stream restoration. They have spent many days in pouring rain, thick mud, and weaving through thorny blackberry to improve the health of their watersheds. Now, it was time to share our findings and accomplishments with one another, our funders, scientists in the field, and the entire community.

Students arrived in clothes very different from the usual muddy rain gear we are familiar with and we began listening to Meghan (SOLVE) welcome us to the event and thank us all for our hard work. Next, Sarah Pinnock, Wetlands Education Specialist at Jackson Bottom Wetlands Preserve, gave our keynote speech. She has a degree in Environmental Science from Marylhurst University.  She has been an educator and naturalist in the Northwest for 25 years, and has been a Wetlands Education Specialist at Jackson Bottom Wetlands Preserve for almost 13 years. Sarah designs and delivers field science programs and traveling programs for schools and groups, summer camps, adult and family programs. She encouraged us to look for the thing we love doing and to never be afraid to pursue it. It was so great to hear her inspirational words of wisdom!

Next, students presented on topics of their choice from their year working with SOLVE. We heard about everything from how plants sequester carbon to how macroinvertebrates tell us about the quality of the water in our streams. We heard about the incredible amount of work students have done to remove blackberry, ivy, morning glory, Reed canary grass, and to plant native trees and shrubs and take care of them. As a whole, Green Teams on the West Side have planted 2,800 trees and shrubs this school year.

Then we headed out to the lobby to hear about summer internship opportunities and admire all of the incredible garbage art and writing reflections of fellow Green Team students.

Together, as Green Team students in the Portland-Metro area you all have demonstrated that the power of young, informed, and devoted students is unstoppable. Your willingness to learn about the rivers in your backyard and turn that information into positive change is absolutely unbelievable. This positive energy and eagerness to make a difference will truly make this world a better place- in honesty, it already has.

Thank you all so much for being a part of Green Team this year. Congratulations to all of you dedicated stewards of your streams!

Thank you, Glencoe!

Written by SOLVE Jesuit Volunteer Corps Northwest Member, Gina Graziano

After one look at macroinvertebrates on a snowy winter day a few months back, we couldn’t wait to get a look at more bugs and try to analyze their presence and absence in McKay Creek, right behind our school. We got a sense of the bugs, found crazy case-maker caddisflies who have made their shell with Reed Canary Grass, and began to understand how these macroinvertebrates can be an indicator of stream health.

Macroinvertebrates can tell us about the health of a stream more holistically than a pH or chemical water quality test can. These bugs can live in a stream for up to two years and therefore their presence or absence can tell us about the health of a stream beyond the point in time we are sampling for water quality.

Last week, we took a sample of macroinvertebrates from Gales Creek out in Forest Grove and brought it to Glencoe High School to have two different sites to compare. We hypothesized that Gales Creek might be part of a healthier watershed than McKay Creek and wanted to see what the bugs had to say about that.

We grouped up and looked for bugs in our samples. We found case maker caddisflies, tiny copepods, damselflies, and much more. Students are compiling their data and doing an analysis of the data from the entire two days of surveying. We can’t wait to see what the analysis says!

We grouped up one last time to recap all of our incredible work at McKay Creek. We at SOLVE are so thrilled to have created the partnership with Glencoe this year and are so grateful for all the students do to restore their watershed. It is absolutely unbelievable how much blackberry we have removed, how many plants we have planted, and that we have the next three years to watch the trees and shrubs grow, cheering on new freshmen Biology classes who will steward their creek. Thanks for all you do, Glencoe!

Thank you, Clean Water Services, for funding this project!

Teaming Up for Earth Day

It’s not very often that high school students get to teach adults a thing or two but that is exactly what happened last week at Glencoe High School. Wells Fargo employees came out to Glencoe early Friday morning to plant the 160 trees they had donated… plus more.

Everyone was greeted by Melisa McDonald, SOLVE‘s executive director, who thanked us all for doing our part to take care of Oregon this Earth Day. Next, Glencoe High School students told Wells Fargo employees about all of the incredible work they have done to restore McKay Creek already. They shared how our planting area was covered entirely in Armenian Blackberry, a vigorous invasive species in the Pacific Northwest, until students just recently cleared it out. It was so important to clear out that blackberry because it does not hold in our soil and thus causes erosion, takes space, light, and nutrients from native trees and shrubs and does not provide good habitat for the many birds and wildlife McKay Creek harbors. With all of that newly exposed soil, it was very important that we get plants in the ground as soon as possible to prevent further erosion. And that we did!

A Glencoe High School freshman demonstrated the proper technique for planting a native tree or shrub to ensure success for that plant. We broke up and planted over 400 trees and shrubs in no time! Glencoe High School students paired up with Wells Fargo employees to work together.

A student and Wells Fargo employee team up!

After all of our plants were in the ground, we worked to provide each new plant with tons of mulch to ensure they would stay healthy during the dry, summer months to come. Mulch helps retain moisture for the plant, suppresses weeds, and gives the plant a bit of nutrients. And in no time we had mulched all of our plants!

Wells Fargo employees bought pizza for students and enjoyed it with them after all of their hard work. Students were so grateful for the delicious (and local!) lunch and said good bye to our incredible Wells Fargo partners.

Students from the last couple of classes raked up blackberry, collected trash for a garbage art project, and spread straw all over the site to prevent erosion. We even found a garter snake during our two days of restoration work at Glencoe High School!

We can’t wait to read the community newsletter, hear your presentation for the Green Team summit and see your garbage art come together! Thanks for all you do always, Glencoe!

Thank you, Clean Water Services, for funding this project!

Snow May Slow Down Cities, but Not Science at Glencoe High!

Although our new plantings are budding out, birds have been chirping away in search of mates and territory, and springtime has been in the air, it took a definite pause to revert to very wintery weather last week. Weather was predicted to bring very cold temperatures, but little did we know we would have snow and a late start school day because of the cold! A little drop in temperatures couldn’t stop discovery from happening at Glencoe High School, though.

Meghan and Gina (SOLVE) walked out into the wetland to the portion of McKay Creek near our Willow plantings and collected samples of macroinvertebrates, aquatic insects in the stream big enough to see with the naked eye. They brought their catch into the classroom to examine with the students. Even though we are at the tail end of winter and the water levels were high, we still found some incredible little organisms in the stream!

We look at macroinvertebrates not only because they are very interesting insects with interesting life cycles, but also because their presence or absence in a stream can indicate the health of the stream. Certain species of macroinvertebrates are more sensitive to pollution while others can live in fairly polluted conditions. These macroinvertebrates can live as nymphs or larvae for around two years and thus they give us information about the stream over a broad amount of time- not just at that one, specific moment.

We found many interesting bugs in McKay Creek! We found case maker caddisflies which have made an organic shield for themselves out of Duckweed, Reed Canary Grass, and twigs. We also found damselflies which will turn into bright blue flies (very similar to dragonflies), mayflies, diptera, water boatmen, and more.

We are excited to get back out into the stream in the early summer to see what bugs we may find then! When we look at macroinvertebrates next time, we will tally up our samples and have data that will indicate the water quality.

Thanks to all for respecting the macroinvertebrates by handling them carefully, identifying their scientific names, and asking many great questions!

Thank you, Clean Water Services for funding this project!

Midge Life Cycle

Maintaining McKay Creek

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Glencoe High School Green Team has removed about 3,000 pounds of Armenian Blackberry and planted 700 native trees and shrubs just this school year. The transformation of our site behind Glencoe High School has been one of astronomical measures. People walking the track from the community, students of Glencoe High School, and surely all of the wildlife a the site have taken an interest in the incredible work that has been accomplished.

Students made an effort to ensure our new plantings would survive by placing reused coffee bags made out of a natural grass called jute next to each tree or shrub. This will give our plants the head start they need to grow taller than any invasive species that may try to move in. Next, we poured buckets of mulch in a circle around our plants to help them retain moisture more effectively. Even though its hard to imagine dry, sunny days in the middle of this rainy week, they will come eventually. When they do, the mulch will keep the plant well hydrated.

We decided to take our Green Team activities inside for the end of the class period to do some reflecting on all of the work we have done. Students wrote about significant experiences they’ve had in nature through stories and poetry. Students have the opportunity to submit their work to an annual anthology entitled Honoring Our Rivers (


Follow the Flagging Tape Road…

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Follow, follow, follow, follow, follow the flagging tape road… Down to Glencoe High School’s awesome restoration work!  It has been no easy journey through the land of McKay creek but with the prospect of emerald colored plants, muddy ruby boots, and knowing theres no place like home for all of our new native trees and shrubs, Glencoe high school has prevailed.

December 8th and 9th were not particularly warm days out in Hillsboro but that didn’t stop our students from getting to work to restore McKay creek.

Removing the Armenian Blackberry became a great priority this last week because we want to be sure to get it out before Spring comes.  During Spring, its possible that birds will build nests and other organisms might call that patch of blackberry home and we do not want to disturb their nests by removing the blackberry then.  Students heard our early deadline and stepped it up to remove most of the hillside that was once covered in Armenian Blackberry.

Meanwhile, students traveled into the mucky wetland to plant willow trees, Red Alders, and do some bioengineering with Willow and Red Twig Dogwood! We learned that Red Alders fix nitrogen through a bacteria in the genus Frankia, which grows symbiotically on Red Alder roots.  It takes Nitrogen that would otherwise be in the atmosphere into ammonia, in a process called nitrogen fixation.  Further, we learned that when we cut a branch of a mature willow or dogwood tree, we can stick it in the ground and a whole new tree will grow from that.  We increased density of plants in our wetlands with such stakes.  We can’t wait to see what the area will look like next year with all of our new plantings!

Lastly, we bioengineered the slope near the track with cottonwood stakes, and threw straw and a native grass seed to prevent erosion from happening.  While the Armenian Blackberry was causing some serious erosion along the slope, our new stakes, straw and seed should hold the soil in much better.  We can’t wait for our plants to grow up and really stabilize our slope!

All in all, we made some vast strides towards our journey to the Emerald City of restoration at Glencoe High School.  We look forward to working and learning more in the new year!!

Moody Skies won’t slow down the Tide!

Glencoe High School did it again.  They restored the wetland area of McKay creek in incredible time and with incredible zeal.  We thought the area of blackberry they removed the first couple of days with green team was outstanding and yet they did it again!

They continued to cut down and dig out Armenian Blackberry, making the area behind their school look completely different.  Students recalled the many reasons why we removed all that blackberry in the first place.  Despite its big, juicy berries great for pie-making, blackberry creates a monoculture where it grows.  It outcompetes native species from growing, takes over an area, and has little to no natural predators.

Students also geared up and headed out to the very wet wetlands to plant Douglas Spirea, Pacific Willow, Schoolers Willow, and Elderberry.  We wanted to plant these species of trees and shrubs in the wetland because they will create dynamic root structures which will prevent erosion and create shade.  Shade will keep McKay Creek cool as well as stop the Reed Canary Grass from growing so vigorously.

Just shy of the wetland, in the shady area, students planted Red Osier Dogwood to further stabilize our banks and shade out Reed Canary Grass.  In our newly exposed upland area once covered in blackberry, we planted Doug Firs and Snow Berry.  Students also sprinkled hay around out newly exposed ground to prevent erosion and sediment runoff during the rainy season.  With the Doug Fir, Snow berries, and straw lined ground, it feels like some sort of winter wonderland out there! Even though the weather would rain, sprinkle, pour, and then repeat, these students did not let up.  They kept great attitudes and were always focused on the restoration at hand!

Another awesome restoration activity accomplished!  Our site is going to be so much healthier thanks to all of you students at Glencoe High School!

Biggest blackberry battle in Green Team history!

Green Team staff Charlie, Gina and Meghan worked with the Glencoe High School Green Team for the first time this year at McKay Creek.  Conveniently, McKay Creek flows right beside the school, so 12(!) mighty Biology and Environmental science classes marched outside from their classrooms to battle blackberry that is overtaking the natural area beside their school.

Students learned how Armenian(formerly known as Himalayan) blackberry is taking over our native plants, negatively impacting water quality in McKay Creek and destroying wildlife habitat.  Students got a quick intro into blackberry removal techniques and quickly went to work.  We were all SUPER impressed with their work.  A once over taken forest was quickly transformed over the two days into an area prepped for new native trees and shrubs to be planted!

This is one for the Green Team record books, in her six years of working as Green Team staff, Meghan has NEVER seen a group remove this much blackberry in two days!  See the before and after photos!

THANK YOU Glencoe and we will see you next month!

Before - the mountain of blackberry

Photo Point 1 - The removal starts!

Photo Point 1 - During

Photo Point 1 -After two days of hard work!

Photo Point 2 Before!

Photo Point 2 After!

Photo Point 3 Before!

Photo Point 3 After!

A lesson for a lifetime

When Hannah, a senior from Glencoe High School, contacted SOLV for a job shadow experience we quickly put her interest and experience in environmental science to work!  She offered to help lead Rachel Carson Middle School students at Willow Creek over several Wednesdays.  Hannah has been a HUGE help educating students in the field and keeping them focused, enthusiastic and informed about restoration activities like caging natives to protect them from beaver and coffee bagging natives to shade out Reed Canary Grass.

After learning about restoration activities happening at Willow Creek, Hannah realized just how much a similar Reed Canary grass invaded wetland next to her school could benefit if students became actively involved.  Glencoe High is located right next to McKay Creek, a very high priority waterway for restoration in the Tualatin Basin.  So she rallied some students, friends and teachers together on a sunny Saturday to plant several native Douglas Fir trees along the natural area not only to enhance habitat and water quality but to also honor eight retiring teachers at Glencoe High.

Hannah did not stop there, during her Saturday event students and teachers also harvested about 30 Red Osier Dogwood cuttings and installed them in the wetland to enhance biodiversity in the area.  She is also encouraging students and teachers to continue her work at McKay Creek.

Thank you Hannah for all your work this spring!  You have truely been an inspiration to many and we know you’ll do great things in the future!