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Conservation begins at native plant nursery

By Celeste Gracey
Issaquah Sammamish Reporter

Grasping the 2-foot saplings by their tender trunks, the gardener moved them to make room for the day's potting – cedars so small they looked more like clippings stabbed in bits of earth than trees with roots.

It's the beginning of a several year process for Jema Hayes, who wearing mud-stained Carharts directs volunteers at the Mountain to Sound Greenway Trust's native plant nursery.

She cares for the trees for over a year, before volunteers haul them into the mountains to restore old logging roads or to wetlands to reclaim land once thoroughly abused by blackberry bushes.

MTS plants 12,000-15,000 bushes and trees each year from Seattle to Ellensburg. Each of those trees begin at the trust's single nursery at Lake Sammamish State Park under Hayes' care.

The group relies on hundreds of volunteers each winter to help pot the plants. The work is expected to continue through February this year, after a snow storm cancelled two events.

For Steve Blank, whose volunteered at MTS for 10 years, it's an opportunity to connect with coworkers and a chance to help balance nature with new development.

Like Hayes, he's seen the saplings grow, cleared blackberry-ridden fields where they'll eventually root and then planted them.

Tree planting, which is what the most volunteers show up for, is romantic, but for the hardcore volunteer, he enjoys seeing the trees through, he said.

At the nursery, snaking stacks of black pots are heaped up beside a plywood shed, while the group pulls bushes from brown paper bags and squishes them into healing beds. The nursery has about 30 native plant species.

Nearby, men pot 8-foot maples, wiry and red. They had a good year, Hayes said with a laugh. They're usually half that size.Many of the plants were paid for through Carter Motors' carbon neutral program, which claims credit for planting about 45,000 trees since 2008.

While the nursery is her favorite place in MTS, the satisfaction isn't in bright green rows of Douglas fir or the thousands of plants. It's returning a year after her trees are planted to keep the weeds at bay.

It gives them a fighting chance, she said. "You truly feel ownership of these trees."

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