UWT students help restore native TCC habitat

Six students from the University of Washington Tacoma devoted hundreds of hours this spring to restoring an overgrown site at Tacoma Community College that had become a popular spot for drug users and the homeless.

The students, all part of UW’s Restoration Ecology Network, restored the 1/3-acre site on South 19th Street to a more natural state by removing invasive plants and introducing native ones. The new habitat will allow native plants to flourish on the site, according to UW Tacoma Associate Professor John Banks, who teaches the restoration ecology courses.

“These energetic, enthusiastic students applied their environmental science knowledge and skills to help restore a degraded area to a more desirable state,” Banks said. “The removal of dense invasive species and planting of carefully spaced native plants has opened up this area, making it safer and more comfortable for users.”

The group’s goals were to eliminate or confine invasive species and create an ecologically diverse and attractive site using native plants. They also hoped to improve safety on the site by making it more visible to the public and controlling foot traffic with vegetation.

Starting in February, the six students and community volunteers spent four months developing the proposal, clearing and preparing the site, setting new plants and creating a maintenance plan for TCC.

This is the sixth year of the Restoration Ecology Network program at UW Tacoma, and plans are in the works for next year’s project, Banks said. Next year’s site has yet to be determined.

UW Tacoma senior Zach Hughes, one of the students involved in the project, said he was happy to help improve a community site while earning college credit.

“We had to build this from the ground up, and there was a lot of administrative hassle just getting it started,” he said. “I learned a lot about how to restore a site with native plants, but I learned even more about how to get the community and shareholders involved in a project like this.”

Banks agreed that students benefit from this project as much as the community and the environment. 

“These students get invaluable experience negotiating with clients and the community while setting up this project,” he said. “The skills they have learned complement their background and training in environmental science and give them a nice perspective of how applied science actually gets done.”