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Camping as a way to restore watersheds

If you like camping and want to restore ecosystems, we have a mission for you.  We are working to build a volunteer restoration workforce with access to the best campgrounds in South Sound.

Stewardship for our common lands

Our natural resources are fragile after six generations of development.  The State of Washington has spent over three billion dollars buying up bits and pieces of shoreline, forests, wetlands and rivers to rebuild fisheries, restore biodiversity, and protect water supply.  Yet the task of restoring and providing perpetual stewardship of the common lands remains to be carried out.

Over 100,000 more people squeeze into Puget Sound every three years.  This pressure combined with climate change will test our commitment as stewards.  The real race to restore the watersheds has begun.

Many small projects vs a few big slow ones

I have been restoring vegetation and soils on public and private land for thirty years.  I now work as a federal ecologist helping big restoration projects such as  dike removals on the Nisqually Delta.  The restoration industry is built from state and federal grants.  In a good year, we finish a handful of big slow projects in each watershed.

However, most of our watersheds, streams, and wetlands weave through a patchwork of small private lots.   These landscapes are just as important as the more visible projects like Nisqually Delta.  The current restoration system barely touches these rural lands.

There are thousands of sites that need restoration in South Puget Sound that will never be funded by state and federal grants.  To recover ecological productivity we need small skilled teams working up and down every watershed, and collaborating with private landowners. This is where the Ecosystem Guild and restoration camping comes in.

The campsite as hub of ecosystem restoration

Traditional conservation thinking tells us that to restore land we remove the people.  What if our problem is not about where we live, but rather how we live?  For 200,000 years, we’ve tended ecosystems around our campsites.  We took care of the land and the land took care of us.  Perhaps if we want to restore the watershed, we should go camping.

Counties, tribes and environmental non-profits have been identifying important ecological landscapes throughout South Sound that need tending.  At strategic locations The Ecosystem Guild will negotiate “leave-no-trace” campsites from which to stage restoration work.  Guild-members can join a camping expedition, get training and mentorship, and work on restoration projects.  We’ll plant willow for beaver, put logs in streams, cultivate forests and wetlands, and learn about regenerative land management.  Immersing in these sites is better for learning and design, and lets us connect both to the land and with our fellow campers.

Let’s make it an adventure

We are inviting teachers, professionals, and scientists to come camping and share their knowledge.  Imagine what a well-tended campsite could be like.  These wouldn’t be crowded parking lots, but rather wild gardens with private nooks for sleeping.  We’ll cook with fire, purify our water, and recycle our waste.  We’ll cultivate plant nurseries, and get food from local farms garnished with wild delicacies.  A few trailers will make life comfortable–a rolling bathhouse and a workshop with good tools.  Restoration camps can become the social hub of a decentralized restoration network, where scientists, practitioners, neighbors, and students move with the seasons, learn from last year’s experiments, and decide what to work on next.

Build it ourselves

If we want an Ecosystem Guild we need to build it ourselves from networks of neighbors, friends, students, and co-workers who have the gumption to make this happen.  I look forward to watching the sun rise over a young forest we have tended, eating wildcrafted foods, and falling asleep to a frog chorus in a restored wetland.  We are going to have to rebuild watersheds with our hands, so lets make it an adventure.

If this vision for an Ecosystem Guild and Restoration Camping interests you, we have bi-weekly planning meetings to prepare for our first expedition.  Visit or contact Paul Cereghino at

Paul Cereghino is currently working on  ways to create beneficial relationships among entities connected with the Scatter Creek ecosystem.  Starting as a TESC gardner he has worked in herb farming, landscape construction, park service, retail nursery, city park restoration, restoration planning, and grant program management.


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