WSU students travel to help Stilly Valley communities

ARLINGTON — The walkway leading up to the circular building wasn’t obvious. It took volunteers a few trips to realize there was cement under the tangle of weeds, moss and ivy.

Two days later, the paved path bordered by neatly trimmed bushes and beauty bark led up to a set of newly cleaned steps and the freshly painted exterior of the Round House, a city-owned building by the wetlands near Haller Park.

Landscaping, painting and preservation work on the Round House was one project tackled over the weekend by about 42 volunteers from Washington State University.

The group caravanned across the state from Pullman to Arlington Friday night and stayed into Monday. The work is part of the university’s commitment to help communities affected by the deadly Oso mudslide in March 2014. The school has promised to support the Stillaguamish Valley for at least the next five years, said Curt Moulton, director of WSU’s Snohomish County Extension.

“Because we’re a university, we’re making sure we engage the students in this,” he said.

Travel, food and supplies were paid for by a fall fundraiser on the Pullman campus. Devon Seymour, a 21-year-old French and international relations major, coordinated the trip. It’s the second of three planned this year. The first group of 25 students went to Darrington in September, and another team is set to visit the Sauk-Suiattle Indian Reservation in April, Seymour said.

Samantha Brown, 20, volunteered in Darrington in the fall and was a group leader this time around.

“We’ve never been through some sort of disaster like these communities have, so it’s important to be able to relate and see how it’s impacted them,” she said.

Josh Dornbush, 19, balanced on a ladder Sunday morning as he painted ceiling boards above the Round House deck. Though he dedicated his Sunday to the building near Haller Park, he spent Saturday over at Twin Rivers Park, the site of the students’ other projects. There, teams cleared trails, cleaned up weeds and brush, and installed new baskets at the park’s disc golf course.

The course was Dornbush’ favorite project. In the end, he could see how much his team’s efforts improved it, he said. They ran into a group of disc golfers who thanked them. It was good to know they were doing something the community wanted, Dornbush said.

“It makes it really worth it,” he said.

The goals is to focus on projects selected by the communities, Seymour said.

“All of our students have been incredible and really dedicated and motivated when they get out here,” she said. “I’m really proud of them.”

Friends from sororities and fraternities volunteered together. Others heard about the opportunity in classes.

When Ivan Fiedler, 21, first signed up, he thought the trip would be a good way to get some community service hours. With fraternity brothers along, it sounded like fun. Then he saw images of the slide, including some taken from above showing the gash in the earth where the hill had been.

“I thought, ‘oh my god, that’s where we’re going,’” he said. “That sort of changed it. It just felt like this is real.”

Eric Hentila with Arlington’s Maintenance and Operations Department acted as site supervisor at the Round House. The volunteers impressed him, he said.

“It’s not only excellent morale and skill building for these students, it also helps the city free up staff time for other projects,” he said.

The department planned to fix up the Round House for years, but didn’t have the staff time to spare, he said.

City officials have talked about turning the structure into an environmental and historical education center with informational displays, but no decisions have been made.

Seymour hopes WSU students can visit Arlington in the coming years to help maintain the Round House, trails and disc golf course. Students plan to seek funding this spring for next year’s trips, she said. The goal is to make sure they stay free for the volunteers and communities.

“It’s not just a one-and-done deal,” Seymour said. “The biggest thing for us is we don’t want to be a temporary presence. We want to be a fixed part of this community moving forward.”

Kari Bray: 425-339-3439; kbray@heraldnet.com

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