Most early mornings you can find Tom Hall in the bush beside Willow Creek.
Hall is busy doing what he calls “tending” the native plants that have been planted in the area as part of Greenways Land Trust’s conservation work in the area. A few years after volunteers came in planting trees and other native plants, somebody still has to go back and take care of them. That’s what Hall does.
“Tending is the word I use a lot. Tending is coming in here, going to one of those trees and seeing that it needs pushing back, seeing that it needs some mulch. Tending also means taking the vines and stuff off of them, just to help them grow,” he said. “So many people are behind the effort of one little tree. They’ve cut the blackberry back, they’ve watered it last year and the year before, and then just right now it gets watered a only little bit. An hour of somebody’s time just makes a huge huge difference. The history behind the tree is a whole bunch of people who volunteered and now it seems like all the volunteering people are just kind of surviving right now. To go that extra mile is tough.”
Hall starts his mornings right by the Inland Island Highway. He takes care of the Willow Point Estuary park adjacent to the Ken Forde Boat Ramp, then crosses the street into the park along the creek. All along the trail leading back from the road you can see Hall’s handiwork. There are flagged plants, protected plants, cut marks on invasives like blackberry and early in the morning there are is a collection of five-gallon buckets half-full of water from Willow Creek.
“I truck water out of necessity,” he said. “I drive up with all the buckets and do the front area. The City provides Greenways with a tap on the otherside. I can water with a tap over there. I truck water in here, and now I’m starting to figure out a way to wheelbarrow water in here, but I don’t have the knees to get down and get water all the time.”
Hall is 74, and though he sometimes gets a helping hand, Greenways is looking to find him some more help. He’s also not the only person doing this kind of work. Greenways Land Trust community engagement coordinator Katie Lavoie said there are “a bunch of little teams,” but that they are looking for more volunteers specifically for Willow Creek.
“(Hall)’s done way more than 600 plantings and he’s having a hard time keeping up with all of them,” she said. “He’s done so much work, he basically works like a full-time job worth of volunteering.”
With high temperatures forecast for the foreseeable future, watering is essential to keeping Greenways’ restoration projects alive.
“We need so much watering,” Lavoie said. “This year they’ve been watering every day. With the increased temperatures we’re having this year we have to really try to keep up with it so our plantings live. We’ve already had quite a few casualties.”
Volunteer hours would be flexible, ranging from once a week to a more regular schedule. Anyone can help, but someone capable of lifting heavy buckets out of the creek would be greatly appreciated. Those interested in volunteering can contact Lavoie at firstname.lastname@example.org.
For Hall, the best part of the work is getting to slow down and reconnect with nature.
“If I could stress anything… Oh man is it good for the soul,” he said. “You just come in here and you hang out for a while, you just kind of get a good feeling out of the whole thing.
“It’s a natural high.”