The Nisqually Stream Stewards (NSS) is a free course offered by the Nisqually Indian Tribe and Nisqually River Council. Participants receive 40 hours of hands-on training and educational talks, in exchange for 40+ hours of volunteer time. These volunteers are invaluable to our work–and our story wouldn’t be complete without them! Nick Gosling and his son Micah completed the class in 2016. Before joining NSS, Nick volunteered regularly with the Nisqually Land Trust, using his time in the field as an important bonding experience for his family. We are honored to have volunteers like Nick and Micah who use their passions to make the Nisqually Watershed a healthier place for us all. Thank you for sharing your experiences with us, Nick!
On Saturday, September 24th, I stood in the center of the amphitheater at the Billy Frank Jr. Nisqually National Wildlife Area, my colleagues from the Nisqually Stream Stewards (NSS) program spread out before me. At my side stood my son Micah, and together we donned our salmon “crowns” and I accepted my certificate of completion and the class title of “Native Plant ID Master”.
This moment was special to me. It was special not just because it marked the accumulation of 40 hours of classroom and field training focused on the Nisqually River watershed, or because I was celebrating with some 20-plus fellow students whom I’d gotten to know over the past six weeks.
This moment was especially important because my two-year-old son was with me. Micah, my constant companion in much of my ecology and conservation work over the past two years, had attended nearly all the Saturday Stream Steward field trips with me. He’d become an unofficial steward himself in the process and made many new friends.
My wife Ariel and I moved to Washington State the last week of December 2013. A few weeks later, we volunteered for the first time with the Nisqually Land Trust, planting trees and shrubs along the Nisqually River in Yelm. We enjoyed the experience and committed to serving as land stewards with the Trust. By the last week of January 2014, Micah was born, and Ariel and I had begun regularly stewarding a property in Yelm.
As a stay at home dad, I took Micah with me everywhere. We visited “our” Yelm property once a month. When he was younger, I carried him as we hiked the trails, and he and I sat in the river shallows and threw rocks. When Micah grew older, he hiked along with me – and later ran ahead – as we explored the site.
Together, Micah and I also volunteered at other properties and with different organizations. We planted trees and shrubs and pulled ivy and Scotch broom with the Land Trust, collected native plant seeds on Western Washington’s prairies, and improved hiking trails and removed invasive plant species from Olympia municipal parks. In the process we bonded and shared experiences. I still remember the first time Micah touched stinging nettle – he cried briefly before returning to his happy, jovial self. Or, while digging planting holes when we’d come across a worm, he’d hold it aloft like a trophy. He quickly learned to identify Salmonberry – his favorite wild snack. And wherever we volunteered, he’d always make friends and never shied away from asking his new conservation buddies for a treat from the snack table.
In volunteering in land conservation, I’ve discovered a passion. But I’ve also found a way to enjoy the outdoors with my son, to meet new people and learn more about the ecology of my adopted home state, and to give back. I hope that in the process, I’ve encouraged in Micah a similar interest – or at the very least taught him a little about land conservation. My wish is that he and I will continue to volunteer together, as he grows into a young man, and that we will work side-by-side at land conservation events, bonding over this shared passion.