By PUYALLUP TRIBAL NEWS STAFF
Over a sunny weekend in mid-October, Puyallup Tribal Youth worked alongside members of Earth Corps and Puyallup wildlife biologist Barbara Moeller to restore environmental balance to the land around Benbow Lakes.
The land, which is home to the Gang Resistance Education and Training (GREAT) Tribal Youth Camp, has been the focus of recent environmental restoration efforts for the Tribe, which acquired it more than a decade ago. Non-native invasive plants species have taken over much of the space.
Planting 400 trees throughout 320 acres marked the conclusion of work made possible by a Bureau of Indian Affairs grant to the Puyallup Wildlife Department.
Youth volunteers joined the project through the Puyallup Tribal Youth Camp, which helps local Native youth in fourth through ninth grades participate in and lead community projects. Young people themselves select the projects they’ll work on, said Michael Beckett, a Puyallup Tribal Police school resource officer at Chief Leschi Schools.
After ninth grade, participants can be hired as camp counselors, where they assume more responsibility and develop leadership skills.
The Benbow Lakes restoration work aims to encourage biodiversity by replacing invasive species with native plants. Additionally, it creates a lasting connection to the land for Puyallup Tribal youth, whose work will benefit young people attending the camp in the future.
“Once a month I get to go hang out with friends at camp in the woods — it’s time we all look forward to,” said camp counselor Cody Murray, who’s been involved with Puyallup Tribal Youth Camp since elementary school, and is now studying mechanical engineering at Bates Technical College. For many, Tribal Youth Camp becomes a second home, he said.
The weekend concluded with a celebratory bon fire, food, and storytelling.
The Tribal Youth Camp’s partner, Earth Corps, helps young adults do environmental restoration projects in and around the Salish Sea. Many of the Earth Corps crew members — who hail from regions all across the United States — are recent college graduates who studied environmental science.