Native Plant Restoration

Native berries such as this wild strawberry, and Subalpine Huckleberry are also grown.
Native berries such as this wild strawberry and subalpine huckleberry are also grown.

Restoration of Native Plants

Native plant communities within North Cascades National Park Service Complex support native wildlife species, provide for traditional uses, protect soils from erosion, and reduce the extent of invasion by exotic plant species. However, human activities can create significant damage to these plant communities. Park visitors often trample native plants in and around popular destinations. Hikers create networks of informal trails near designated hiking trails, which can cause erosion of the main trail in addition to damaging plants. Workers also destroy native plant communities during construction or maintenance projects.

The revegetation program at the park complex restores native plants to these impacted areas. Every restoration program begins on site, where National Park Service staff choose which species to propagate based on the existing plant assemblages in the adjacent area. Park staff collects seed from plants within a one-mile radius of the restoration site, then grow the plants from seed in containers at the native plant nursery in Marblemount, WA. In fall, once the plants begin to go dormant and precipitation is likely, staff plant them out at the restoration site. At some sites, staff spread seed directly at the site to supplement the planting. For 2-3 years after planting, when plants are not fully acclimated to their new site, staff must water them during the dry summer months. Restoration work can be labor intensive, but the work is hands-on and engaging for employees and volunteers of all ages.

An integral part of the park restoration program is youth engagement. Each summer, the revegetation program hosts a Youth Conservation Corps (YCC) crew of six high-school-age employees. YCC members gain an enriching work experience during their eight weeks working on projects such as pasture maintenance and nursery work, with one day per week focused on environmental education. Local children also enjoy volunteering at the nursery, probably because many of the tasks involve getting dirty or wet.
An assortment of newly-transplanted plants which will be used to restore trampled areas along the popular Sahale Arm trail.
An assortment of newly-transplanted plants which will be used to restore trampled areas along the popular Sahale Arm trail.

What Can You Do to Help?

There are plenty of other volunteer opportunities within the restoration program!

But even if you do not volunteer, you can easily help native plants when you are visiting a natural area. The key is to appreciate the diversity of plants all around you, and to simply avoid damaging them in the first place. Even when a site appears to already be damaged, you can choose to avoid further damage, and plants will often regenerate. Follow closure signs even in seemingly bare areas to protect vulnerable plants, emerging seedlings, and soil from compaction.

North Fork Camground restoration area during planting
North Fork Camground restoration area during planting.

North Fork Campground Revegetation Project

One of the most recent revegetation projects as of June 2019 is a planting at North Fork Campground along the Pacific Crest Trail. This campground is located in the Stephen Mather Wilderness, a 10-mile hike from the nearest road. The revegetation site had been used as a camping area, but does not comply with Leave-No-Trace camping ethics since it is very near the creek. Prior to planting, very few plants survived in the 752 ft2 area chosen for revegetation. In early October 2018, National Park Service staff planted over 1,000 plants (of 5 species) in the area, and covered the soil with mulch from nearby decomposing logs.

Despite the high density of plants in a relatively small area, the site appears fairly open since the plants are small, and as such, are vulnerable to trampling. To prevent camping or the creation of informal trails through the area, the park installs roping and signage around the planted area each spring and remove it each fall. Because few transplants can survive without supplemental water during the summer, the park provides two watering cans with an attached message to encourage campers to help by watering the plants. For those interested in watering, the restoration site is easy to find since it is near the campground’s water access point. Campers who help now may literally enjoy the fruits of their labor a few years from now, since one of the plants in the restoration site is the black huckleberry (Vaccinium membranaceum)!

North Fork Campground revegetation area before planting. North Fork Campground revegetation area before planting.

Left image
North Fork Campground revegetation area before planting.

Right image
North Fork Camground restoration area after planting.

Last updated: July 3, 2019

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