Greenspaces and happy faces

Mountain Workshops learn how care for our natural places through a day of stewardship at Cheasty Greenspace.
Katherine Hollis Katherine Hollis
August 03, 2015

 We took a sharp turn onto Alaska Place and parked at a dead end in front of a house with a green awning covering the front porch. “Green Seattle Partnership” lined the edge of the tent, shovels were laid out in a perfect pattern, and a huge -pile of mulch sat next to the front door.

Ten years ago, I would have been standing next to the entrance of one of the most notorious drop off point for stolen cars in all of Seattle. But after 7,500 hours of dedicated volunteer stewardship, I was actually standing next to the entrance of Cheasty Greenspace Mountain View – a 10 acre forest smack in the middle of Columbia City and Beacon Hill neighborhoods. Instead of homeless encampments and elicit behavior filling the woods, trails and native plants now do. This is all due to a hoard of dedicated neighbors, and today, the Aki Kurose Mountain Workshop Program.

   The Mountaineers began these workshops as a way to get underserved kids outdoors, teach them outdoor activities, and invite them to the hills in order to experience nature up close and personal. Much like our workshop format, Cheasty is an urban greenspace that acts as a portal to the great outdoors. Mary DeJong, the Cheasty Mountain View forest steward, said about this experience, “The greenspace gives kids hyper local access to nature and allows them to get to know their own backyard.” When they are allowed to play in and maintain that backyard, kids develop, “a mental muscle to understand how our behaviors affected the earth,” Mary continued.

   As I learned more about Cheasty, a school bus carrying nine middle school students and their two teachers came driving up the narrow residential road. It parked, and the kids came bouncing out. Sarah Machacek, our Mountaineers leader for the day, quickly began yelling out hellos to familiar faces and getting the group into a circle around the shovels. This group of students has been participating in Mountain Workshops for over a year. They climb, hike, andlearn outdoor skills like cooking, first aid, and navigation. Today was not a climbing or hiking day for the students. Today was a stewardship day, an opportunity to give back. In response to the disappointment of one youth, his teacher replied, “It’s okay. You take a little, you give a little. Today we are giving back a little.”

   After a warm up, get-to-know-you, session, we got into a single file line with our shovels and buckets in hand, and journeyed up to the greenspace. For the last seven years, volunteers like Mary have been clearing away the invasive ivy and blackberry, building trails, and picking up garbage. Cheasty Mountain View is 10 acres out of a total of 43. The planting of native species is the last step of restoration for this section. Then volunteers will transition into maintenance mode and full force restoration within the remaining 33 acres of Cheasty North.

   Our kids dug holes, planted Oregon Grape, and surrounded the plants with donuts of mulch. In just one hour, the youth had planted 60 plants. Proud and beat, we ended our workshop with a reflection. Sarah asked, “What’s one thing you though you did well?” S said digging. R said learning how to put plants back into the earth. D said carrying the buckets. E said teamwork; helping her friends. Aki Kurose Middle School is not filled with kids who have it easy. 90% are on free and reduced lunch. And only a few minutes away from Cheasty Mountain View, none of the kids at our workshop had heard of the greenspace. After chatting with their teacher for a bit, I also learned that these particular students all have a learning disability. I asked her what she thought their Mountain Workshops had done for them, she explained,

“It’s completely motivating. They have really come together as a team, and it’s amazing to see. A year ago I signed them up because I personally love to hike and I wanted to share it. These kids wouldn’t have had this sort of opportunity otherwise.”

There were two truant kids in the group today, but they were present because they wanted to participate in the workshop.

   Cheasty Greenspace represents a greater revolution happening within Seattle neighborhoods. Communities are coming together in order to reclaim their greenspaces. The woods and trails we worked on with our Aki students are beacons of hope that shine onto a future of equitable access to nature, for everyone. Instead of separating neighbors and isolating others, Cheasty is breaking down those kinds of barriers. Mary explained, “The woods are a leveling field, where people of all backgrounds and experiences come together to work for the common good.”

   Excited, tired, and hungry, it was time for our students to head back to school. We said goodbye, but before we did, Mary made sure the kids knew they could come back to check on their plants. “This is your place,” she said, “you are welcome anytime.” Hopping, running, dragging, the students loaded themselves back onto the bus. I turned to wave and heard, “When’s the next trip?!”

 If you would like to learn more about volunteering opportunities please reach out to Emily Carraux at . If you would like to know more about Cheasty Greenspace, volunteer for trail work, or reach out to help in other ways, please visit  

By Karen Kirsch


This article originally appeared in our May/June 2015 issue of Mountaineer magazine. To view the original article in magazine form and read more stories from our bi-monthly publication, click here.

Our letter of support of Cheasty Greenspace can be found in our 2015 comment letters section of our website.