VALLEYFORD, Wash. – The Land’s Council’s restoration projects have grown exponentially over the past few years, but the staff hasn’t. So recently, as the council was searching for a solution, they got the idea of using inmates for extra manpower.
Now in its first year, the Green Sleeves Project puts low-risk inmates to work on public land across the county. They are currently focused on helping to restore the Hangman Creek watershed, where decades of farming and irrigation has degraded the water quality and the banks of the creeks.
The Lands Council found that replanting some native species along the banks helps restore them to their natural state. But in order to make a sizeable impact, they needed help.
They found help with their new partnership with Spokane County’s Geiger Correctional Facility. Inmates volunteer to be on work crews after passing rigorous screening - they must be low-risk, minimum-security offenders to participate.
Spokane County Work Crew Officer Charles Valente said the work crews consider their assignments a privilege. He said it’s a way for them to develop a work ethic while giving back to the community.
“They’ll be able to come back or tell their kids, ‘Yeah, I did wrong and I went to jail, but this is what I did while I was in jail and I gave back to the community,’” Valente said.
On Wednesday, the crew of eight men dug about 500 holes along California Creek, a tributary of Hangman Creek that runs through Valleyford.
On Saturday, “Reforest Spokane Day, volunteers will return to the site to plant trees in the prepared holes.
In the past, volunteers have had to plant smaller, less mature trees because they didn’t have the time or the skills for bigger holes. This time, because of the inmates’ work, they’ll plant bigger, more mature trees. The Lands Council’s Watershed Program Director, Amanda Parrish, said she expects the trees will have more success this time around.
She also says it’s rewarding to see the offenders learning about land restoration through the Green Sleeves Project.
“We had the greatest questions from the offenders,” Parrish said. She said they asked about the type of trees they were planting and why they were planting them in certain places. “It just dawned on us, there’s so much educational opportunity with this.”
The Lands Council hopes to get more local businesses to back the Green Sleeves Project once they see the tremendous community benefit.