Island preschoolers help replant Meigs Park

Here’s Tad Sooter’s story about Island Cooperative Preschool’s effort to plant 50 fir trees at Meigs Park. The school is in the process of earning “Eco School” status from the National Wildlife Federation.

Bainbridge preschoolers replant island park
By Tad Sooter

BAINBRIDGE ISLAND – A few years from now the freshly planted Douglas fir seedlings at Meigs Park will be the size of Christmas trees. The children who planted them, meanwhile, will still be in elementary school.

Bundled up in fuzzy hats and rubber boots, students from Island Cooperative Preschool planted 50 firs at the park Nov. 19, with the help of their parents and tree specialist Jim Trainer.

The children were performing a community service by replanting a clearing recently stripped of invasive Scotch broom. But this was more than a work party. Parents and teachers also hope activities like the tree planting will help the children build an appreciation of the environment at a young age.

“It’s really important to get kids out and doing something real in nature, so they’ll grow up to be stewards of the earth,” teacher Ellen Carleson said.

The preschool has put new emphasis on environmental learning over the last few years. The program, open to ages 1 through 5, is in the process of earning “Eco School” status from the National Wildlife Federation, an international designation recognizing schools that promote energy conservation, environmental education and outdoor activities. The Cooperative Preschool is the first island school to register as an Eco School.

Carleson said the preschool uses a wide range of activities and field trips to bring the children closer the natural world around them. Lessons about energy saving and reducing waste are built into the curriculum. Students and their parents also tend a community farm patch, donating a part of their harvest to the Helpline House food bank.

“We want to make sure we’re getting our kids outside,” Carleson said.

The tree planting event ― part of a broader NWF Trees for the 21st Century initiative ― drew families outdoors on a cold but clear Saturday morning.

The day began with a presentation by Trainer, a forester who has planted and distributed more than 1 million trees in Washington in his 30-year career. Trainer came prepared with a trunk full of forest curiosities. He let the children handle bear fur, a skunk pelt, faux bear scat and a tangle of sticks from an eagle nest, and played owl calls for them to identify.

“That’s the call of a great horned owl,” student Liam Doherty exclaimed as Trainer played a husky call.

“You give a hoot,” Trainer joked.

Teaching about woodland “treetures” is an easy way to get children excited about healthy forests, Trainer said.

“A lot of the kids have never touched the fur of a bear, or seen bear scat, or seen an eagle’s nest,” he said. “So it’s a good opportunity for them to learn.”

Trainer also provided the tree seedlings for the day. After his presentation, the preschoolers and their parents scattered across the clearing with shovels to plant the tiny firs. Parents dug holes in the frosty ground while the children dropped in the trees in and helped pat dirt back in around the roots.

Erik Sherwin of the Bainbridge Metropolitan Park and Recreation district said the patch of Meigs Park off Koura Road was recently cleared of Scotch broom by volunteers. Scotch broom is an invasive species that often overruns native plants. Replanting the clearing with fir trees will help keep the broom at bay.

“When you take invasives out, if you don’t put something in they’ll come right back,” Sherwin said.

The district appreciated the help of Trainer and the preschool crew.

“It’s nice,” Sherwin said. “We’re getting a lot of volunteers from the community. More and more with new families we’re getting people out to do physical work.”

When the planting was done, spindly fir tree seedlings dotted the grassy clearing, bedded in leaves and wood chips. The preschoolers put away their shovels and stomped off toward the parking lot, stopping to splash in mud puddles along the way.

The young planters and their trees will grow up together.
To learn more about Island Cooperative Preschool, visit Park district volunteer opportunities can be found at

PHOTO: From left, William Flitter, Jessica Rockers, Liam Doherty and Liam Flitter admire their freshly planted Douglas fir tree Nov. 19 at Meigs Park. Photo by Tad Sooter