In the coming years, when camas is flowering, trees are growing and strawberries are ripening on the banks of the Quillayute River, students from the nearby Quileute Tribal School will be able to see the results of their work.

Students visited the site of the Quileute Tribe’s Reach III Restoration Project in November to plant vegetation, a key part of the long-sought project.

Students tromped into a muddy area to plant Sitka spruce and western red cedar that can grow to impressive heights. They also planted common camas bulbs, wild strawberry plants and Pacific silverweed that someday will flourish.

Quileute Tribal School teacher Alice Ryan said it was a special opportunity for the 57 students—from grades 7-12—who took part.

“If you want to change how students see the land around them, we need to bring them back to a sense of stewardship,” Ryan said. “If they have a hand in planting and then see their work grow, the hope is that they will take some personal pride in it and take care of it, even so much as stopping others from polluting or harming the land that they worked hard to help restore.”

The field trip was part of a growing curriculum built around Quileute tribal culture and designed in consultation with tribal elders, community members and school staff.

The Reach III Restoration Project included the installation of 13 large engineered logjams and 40 habitat logjams to provide more fish-friendly habitat and prevent the river from further eroding its banks.

The students’ work on the revegetation phase of the project wasn’t ornamental; it’ll serve a crucial purpose, said Caroline Walls, the tribe’s habitat restoration biologist.

“Replanting the areas we disturbed with the restoration project is vital to restabilizing the soils and preventing invasive weeds from moving in,” she said. “We chose plant species that do well in this area and have cultural uses.”

In addition to ownership in the project, the students benefit from a glimpse at natural resources work that could eventually become a career path.

“What we started in 2019 is going to be a 100-year project through the whole watershed,” said Nicole Rasmussen, Quileute water quality biologist. “There are career opportunities all over—writing grants, monitoring water quality, being a biologist. It exposes them to career options.”

Above: Quileute habitat restoration biologist Caroline Walls, left, and Quileute Tribal School student Teresa Schwegel plant a tree on the banks of the Quillayute River. Story and photo: Trevor Pyle