The City Urban Perspectives
Alumna Harnesses Student Volunteer Power to Transform Urban Forest
Back to Nature
By Kalie Nelson | Photo by Mike Siegel
During CityQuest 2013, incoming SPU freshmen worked with other volunteers (including President Dan Martin, center) in Cheasty Greenspace to clear invasive species and spread mulch, laying groundwork for a healthier environment throughout the forest.
When Mary Plate DeJong ’99 and her family moved to Seattle’s Rainier Valley neighborhood, their new home backed up to acres of neglected forest. Neighbors complained about the illicit activities and homeless encampments. But DeJong didn’t see a lost cause. She saw an invitation.
“Our urban landscapes have been marginalized, ignored and oppressed,” DeJong says. “They should be invited into a conversation of reconciliation and speak into the healing and wholeness of urban communities.”
People deserve access to nature, she says, and restoring the neglected forest was a way to accomplish that.
Now 10 acres of the land have been transformed through the Friends of Cheasty Greenspace at Mountain View, an organization of neighborhood volunteers co-founded by DeJong and neighbor Andrea Ostrovsky. Despite opposition from neighbors who worried these efforts would increase crime in the area, they advocated for restoration of a healthy forest. “We had to rely on our gut,” DeJong says. “By creating a safe and positive trail system, we knew it would drive out the negativity.”
The group has cleared the space of invasive species, such as English ivy and Himalayan blackberry, which prevent native tree growth, and are planting new native species, such as Douglas fir. A trail system, built by volunteers and supported by grant funding from the City of Seattle, is also near completion.
Seattle Pacific University and Friends of Cheasty have partnered since 2009 through various ministries, including CityQuest, Latreia, and Sharpen. During this year’s CityQuest, SPU’s annual service day for new freshmen, roughly 120 students volunteered, along with several faculty members and President Dan Martin.
As a two-time student volunteer, senior Scott Jackson has witnessed the progress of the space over the last two years. “It’s nice to see nature in the midst of the city,” he says. “The spirit they go about working with reflects how they want people to feel in that space. It’s awesome getting to join their community for a day and help out.”
Friends of Cheasty has logged roughly 6,500 volunteer hours since 2008, and the number is continuing to grow. “It’s like a party in the woods,” DeJong says, laughing. “We sit around the fire pit after working and just spend time in community.”