Every year around this time, our AmeriCorps member is wrapping up a 10.5-month service term with Capitol Land Trust through the Washington Service Corps program. This year we bid a very fond farewell to Justine Mischka, who has been our AmeriCorps member since the fall of 2019. Justine served two terms with CLT as our Restoration Coordinator. We are so grateful for the time and energy she dedicated to making our region a better place for people and wildlife alike!
Over the past two years, Justine has been responsible for engaging the community in on-the-land stewardship work, which we call stewardship work parties. Stewardship work parties get things done where they are needed most, whether it be keeping trails open and safe or removing encroaching invasive vegetation from restoration sites. By mobilizing volunteers, we’re able to increase our capacity to steward conserved lands to improve fish and wildlife habitat and water quality in the South Puget Sound and Chehalis Basin watersheds. Justine worked with over 250 individuals the past two years, leading the charge to address environmental needs on over 45 acres of conserved land.
Justine says that some of her most memorable projects were our 2020 and 2021 Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service events and our 2020 Orca Recovery Day event. These three projects mobilized 100 community members to address habitat degradation in our forests and on our shorelines. With the help of our partners Native Plant Salvage and Mason Conservation District, invasive English ivy and Himalayan blackberry were removed, and native trees and shrubs were planted. Justine reflects, “It was a joy to work with our partners so closely and work together to accomplish even more on these important days of service!”
One of Justine’s favorite parts of her service terms was meeting people living in the community. Alongside her, community members spent an impressive 1,600 hours in volunteer time. “I have wholeheartedly enjoyed getting to know so many wonderful community members and volunteers. I have gained friendships and so much knowledge from my time spent outdoors with people who care about their community,” she says. Being outdoors with others builds strong relationships and some of our regular volunteers have grown quite fond of Justine.
Volunteer Sue shares, “In the time I have volunteered with Capitol Land Trust, working with AmeriCorps members has always been a highlight. These past two years working with Justine has been a real joy, despite the limitations placed on us by the pandemic. Her energy and enthusiasm made every work party positive and fun even when the work is strenuous. Justine also brings a sense of concern and caring as she keeps watch over the groups. She has been flexible if my schedule or energy only allowed me to work part of a day. And she always welcomes us with a smile and upbeat greeting. I wish you many great adventures on the winding path ahead. What fun it will be! May our paths cross again!”
Regular volunteers Fred and Debi also share, “All our work parties with Justine have been memorable. But if we had to choose just one, our Scot’s broom pulling party at Twin Rivers Ranch Preserve on a cool, winter day late last fall was one of our best! Many of the Scot’s broom plants had large, multi-stemmed shoots several inches in diameter. Even with the help of a large winch, pulling them up was difficult. We spent more than our share of the time, flat on our backs, soaked in mud and water, with pieces of Scot’s broom in our hands, between our fingers, across our chests – and LAUGHING! Not to be outdone, we noticed Justine spent much of her time in similar positions. As our field lead, Justine’s willingness to work so hard alongside us was encouraging. We think she made us work even harder!”
As Sue noted, Justine’s AmeriCorps service terms did not come without challenges. More than half of her AmeriCorps stint with CLT was during the global pandemic which changed the way she went about her work. “Being an AmeriCorps/volunteer coordinator during a pandemic has been really challenging. There have been periods of time when I wasn’t able to have any volunteer events for months, and then more time with major restrictions. Balancing public health and the needs of our lands is challenging, and I had to adjust a lot to work on new tasks as my stewardship parties had been cancelled. I was grateful to work with an organization like CLT during this time, who was always flexible and understanding while I adjusted.”
Long-time volunteer Charlie goes on to share, “One of the biggest challenges for any volunteer-based group is having the right leadership in place that both motivates and encourages those that give of their free time, especially during a pandemic. Having spent nearly two years watching Justine grow both as a leader and someone who truly cares about the environment has given me hope that with her help and determination that this generation is ready and able to address the issues of climate change and forest destruction. Thank you, Justine, for being such a great leader and an inspiration to all of us. I look forward to seeing what the future holds for you.”
Volunteer Joe also reflects. “I enjoy visiting multiple preserves and working alongside Justine and other volunteers to restore and preserve the natural ecosystem. A memorable activity was over the first summer of COVID. A winter planting at Inspiring Kids Preserve had not been fully mulched. COVID delayed the intended spring much project. By summer our projects were limited to six people. Half the area was overgrown with bed straw, Canada thistle and reed canary grass. I spent three days pulling the weeds away from the restoration plants. Some trees were bent sideways and covered with bed straw! I appreciated Justine’s acknowledgment that anything we accomplished was a success. It has been a pleasure working alongside her. She always has the words to make volunteers feel special.”
Volunteer Tom says, “Justine has been great for all the volunteers to work with and has given us all a greater respect of the conserved lands and the efforts of Capitol Land trust to protect and conserve more properties. Her efforts will be noticed by many for years to come.”
When asked about something she is proud of from the past two years, Justine didn’t hesitate to say all the trees she has planted. “I like to imagine them growing tall and providing shade for visitors, plants and animals for generations to come. I can’t wait to come back to some of the CLT public-access preserves and see how they’re growing!”
What’s next for Justine? She is excited to start a Master of Environmental Studies (MES) program this fall at The Evergreen State College where she hopes to build on her experience of caring for CLT’s conserved lands by learning about land management practices. Thank you for your service, Justine!
We will be taking a break from stewardship work parties this summer while we are between service members. Be on the lookout for them again this October, when our 2021-2022 AmeriCorps member starts their term!