Grad Student Spotlight: Matt Norton

While Michelle Trudeau has been on maternity leave this quarter, we’ve had a few friends helping out Amanda Davis and Lisa Nordlund in the Office of Student and Academic Services. One of the cheerful folks you’ve probably seen, whether in person or as a name in your inbox, is Matt Norton, who began his master’s program at the School of Environmental and Forest Sciences (SEFS) this past fall. We’ve been hearing a few tantalizing rumors of his past exploits—from driving airboats to having a day named after him in Florida’s Volusia County (February 8, 2001)—so we sat down with him last week to learn a little more of his story!

Matt Norton

Matt Norton steers through the Everglades on an airboat.

Turns out the rumors are true, though Norton is exceedingly modest when relating the colorful experiences that brought him to SEFS. A six-generation Floridian from Ormond Beach, he moved to Seattle in 2012 when his wife Claire was placed in the Pathology Residency Program here at the University of Washington. He’s enjoyed the cross-country transition so far, especially getting to explore all the parks and mountains nearby. Plus, the cool, wet climate has been an enormous relief from those sweat-soaked days in Florida. “One thing I guess I didn’t inherit from my great-grandfather is that I still overheat!”

Back home as an undergrad at the New College of Florida, Norton majored in environmental studies. Some of his course work and research involved canopy ecology, and spring ecology and eutrophication of Florida’s spring systems. For his thesis he focused on beach sedimentology—specifically, looking at beach nourishment (adding sand to eroding shores), policies and practices surrounding it, and how it relates to sediment dynamics.

After school, from 2009 to 2012 he worked as a lab and field technician, and later became a project manager, under Dr. Todd Osborne in the Soil and Water Science department at the University of Florida. He helped to conduct and managed research on a number of projects: several investigating the soils and ecology of the Everglades, one involving restoration work in the Kissimmee River basin, and three others looking at various species of clams and their preference for soils in Cedar Key, Fla.

Part of Norton’s job was guiding students out to study sites in the Everglades by airboat (also known as a fanboat). “You can go over anything,” he says. “It’s got Kevlar® on the bottom and a 550-horsepower engine, so you can run it anywhere, even on dry land.”

Matt Norton

Navigation can be tricky in some parts of the Everglades, where the grass goes on forever and can get up to 15 feet high.

Yet aside from enabling you to access remote reaches of the expansive Everglades—and scaring away gators—airboats are also “hellishly” loud and dangerous. From the risk of your engine blowing up to breaking down in 115-degree heat to getting lost in the endless sea of grass, tree islands and gator holes, Norton has more than a few harrowing tales from his time as an airboat pilot. So for all the fun memories of cruising through beautiful waterways and seeing all sorts of wildlife, he wasn’t terribly sad to leave that task behind when he moved to Seattle.

He spent his first spring here volunteering and later working as a surveyor with the digital mapping project at the Washington Park Arboretum. Norton spent some of that time, as well, researching possible graduate programs. “I really want to do something related to being outside and trying to help the environment in some way,” he says. And since his wife’s work as a pathologist will keep them fairly close to a larger city, Norton started thinking how he could apply his experience with restoration ecology and soil science in an urban setting.

Norton’s search quickly led him to SEFS, where he’s now working with Professor Darlene Zabowski. He’s currently studying stump decomposition and creating a model for carbon related to tree farms and biofuels with Erin Burt under Professor Rob Harrison, and he has a separate project involving restoration work in Magnuson Park.

He’s had a hand in a great many other projects along the way, too, from his days as an Eagle Scout to interning at a nuke site, but we don’t want to spoil all of his stories. So stop into the advising office sometime to introduce yourself and learn a little more about Norton!

Photos of Norton on the airboat © Ben Loughran; photo of Norton in the grass © Justin Vogel.

Matt Norton

Wanted: Garden Guides for the Arboretum!

This winter and spring, the Washington Park Arboretum is looking for volunteer “Garden Guides” to lead hands-on, science-based fieldtrips for school groups of kindergarteners through 6th graders!

Garden GuidesHosted by the UW Botanic Gardens, the programs are 90 minutes long and take place during two different timeslots, 10 a.m. or 12 p.m., Monday through Friday. They’re recruiting volunteers of all ages, and working as a Garden Guide is an especially great way for students to share their knowledge and love of nature with the next generation of environmental stewards—all while strolling through the Arboretum!

If you’re interested in signing up, Garden Guides receive a free training series to lead tours on topics such as botany, ecology and interpretation. Guides are asked to work one two-hour shift per week, and new guides shadow experienced guides to learn the programs until they’re confident and comfortable enough to lead tours themselves.

The Garden Guides program runs from now through June 15. To learn more or sign up, contact Lisa Sanphillippo at uwbgeduc@uw.edu or 206.543.8801!

Photo © UWBG.

Meet Wendy Star, the New SEFS Administrator!

With students flooding in and out of classes every day, and researchers cycling in for various projects and seminars, we’re accustomed to seeing unfamiliar faces around the School of Environmental and Forest Sciences (SEFS). But thanks to a handful of hires in the past month, a few of those new faces will soon be regular fixtures in our halls and memories!

One of the newest additions is Wendy Star, who started as SEFS administrator on Monday, November 25. While Star is new to SEFS, she’s been connected to the University of Washington for much of her life, from when she studied business at UW as an undergrad, to her most recent position as administrator for the Department of Sociology.

There’s so much more to her story, of course, and we sat down with Star at the end of her second week to learn a little more and help introduce her to the SEFS community.

Wendy Star

For Wendy Star, UW is a family affair, as both of her daughters also work for the university!

Seattle Roots
Star was born in Wisconsin, but her family moved to Seattle when she was still a baby. Her grandparents had a home in Ballard, and Star grew up playing around the Hiram M. Chittenden Locks, and spending hours exploring the Washington Park Arboretum. “We have lots of pictures of this skinny little kid running around outside,” she says.

These days, though, the tables have turned, and now Star’s shelves and walls are filled with photos of her two young granddaughters. Both of her daughters live in Seattle and work for UW: Jennifer as the curriculum coordinator for the university, and JoAnn as a nurse in labor and delivery at the UW Medical Center. They each have a daughter, and Star says her free time generally revolves around what her granddaughters want to do.

They both started Girl Scouts this year, and Star says she especially loves taking them out on local adventures. “When the weather is nice, we’ll go out in nature and explore,” she says. “One of our favorite things to do is take trips over to Sequim and visit the Olympic Game Farm. You drive through in your car, and you get to see all these animals, buffalo and elk and llamas and yaks, and they come right up to you.”

Book It
Next to the grandkids, one of the easiest ways to get Star gushing is to ask her about what she’s reading. Most mornings, she carpools to campus from Everett with her daughter Jennifer, and then she takes the bus home. That gives her plenty of time to devour all sorts of nonfiction.

She recently finished Last Child in the Woods, which addresses some of the nature deficit many kids are experiencing today, when it’s harder to find open spaces to play outdoors. She doesn’t necessarily recommend that one, but she loved the book before it, The Girl With No Name, by Marina Chapman.

It’s about a 6-year-old girl who grew up in Colombia and was kidnapped. Her abductors ended up leaving her alone into the jungle, where she miraculously survived, in part through the company and protection of monkeys. She’s now grown and has her own daughters, who helped her tell her incredible story. “I couldn’t put it down,” says Star. “It was so fascinating.”

First Impressions
Part of the appeal of the administrator position for Star was the connection to her childhood, and those early days trekking through the Arboretum. She grew up loving these parks and facilities, and now she gets to work on behalf on them.

“I’m excited to learn more about the research our faculty do,” she says, “and to learn about Pack Forest and ONRC and the Botanic Gardens all the centers that are part of SEFS.”

It’s a daunting learning curve, she says, but her first two weeks have been fun, and she’s felt very welcome and at ease. As she familiarizes herself with all the new people and programs in the SEFS community, the hardest part actually might be reminding herself she can’t learn everything overnight—and that all the new science and professors and students are precisely what make the job so exciting. “I’m so tickled to be a part of it!”

You can find Star in Anderson 107D, so feel free to stop by or shoot her an email to introduce yourself!

Photo © SEFS.

News Bulletin … About the Bulletin!

If plants are your passion, and you enjoy incisive articles about invasive species, then you’re probably already familiar with the Washington Park Arboretum Bulletin, the quarterly horticultural journal of the Arboretum Foundation.

Washington Park Arboretum BulletinA benefit of membership in the foundation, the Bulletin features all sorts of stories about Arboretum collections and history, as well as general information for gardeners and horticulturists in the Pacific Northwest and beyond. If you’d like to take a peek inside an issue, you can pick up a copy in the Graham Visitors Center lobby for $5, and you can also browse a selection of stories in the online archive. There’s a ton of great stuff in there!

Speaking of which, the Fall 2013 issue includes a piece by our very own Brian Thompson, manager and curator of the Elisabeth C. Miller Library.

In Thompson’s aptly titled article, “New Books for Pacific Northwest Gardeners (PDF),” he reviews a selection of publications by local authors, including Gardening for Sustainability, by John Albers, and How to Buy the Right Plants, Tools & Garden Supplies, by Jim Fox.

If you’d like to learn more about the Bulletin, or possibly submit an article idea yourself, contact Niall Dunne, communications manager for the Arboretum Foundation!

See the Signs!

The next time you venture over to the Washington Park Arboretum, you’ll probably notice more than 30 new signs now spread throughout the park to provide way-finding and other educational information to visitors!

Bald Cypress

This “Bald Cypress” sign is one of several additions you’ll find along the new “Pinetum Loop” trail in the Arboretum.

Part of a three-year project involving Seattle Parks and Recreation, the University of Washington Botanic Gardens and the Arboretum Foundation, the signage effort coincides with the opening of two new interpretive trails at the 230-acre Arboretum: the half-mile “Pinetum Loop,” and the one-mile “Lookout Loop.”

These additions address a common suggestion from visitor surveys about providing more information and interpretation of the Arboretum’s collections. Planners took special care during installation, though, to make sure the new signs were as unobtrusive as possible, providing a wealth of educational context without affecting the aesthetic enjoyment of the park.

Of course, we can talk about the new signs and trails all day, but the best way to explore the changes is to head over and see for yourself! To direct your journey, the UW Botanic Gardens has created new trail maps that are available online (in PDF) or in print at the Graham Visitors Center.

For more information about the new signage and trails, contact UW Botanic Gardens Director Sarah Reichard.

Azalea Way

Arboretum to Unveil New Zealand Collection

Coming up on Sunday, September 15, from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., the public is invited to attend the official dedication of the New Zealand Forest, the most significant addition to the Washington Park Arboretum in decades!

First conceived nearly 10 years ago, the 2-acre New Zealand collection will feature more than 10,000 plants, shrubs and grasses that are found on New Zealand’s South Island. The exhibit—located on a boulder-strewn hillside crisscrossed with rock swales—is the second of five eco-geographic forests to be completed in the Arboretum’s Pacific Connections Garden, which will eventually cover 14 acres and be the largest exhibit of its kind in North America.

New Zealand Forest

The New Zealand Forest under construction this past May.

Construction of the New Zealand Forest cost roughly $2 million, with funding from the Arboretum Foundation and the 2008 Parks and Green Space Levy, and planners are extremely excited to see the garden opened to the public.

“This is our legacy to leave behind for future generations to enjoy, like Azalea Way or the Winter Garden,” says Fred Hoyt, associate director of the University of Washington Botanic Gardens (UWBG), which owns and manages the collections at the Arboretum.

The opening celebration—organized in partnership with the Seattle-Christchurch Sister City Association and the Burke Museum of Natural History and Culture—will pay homage to New Zealand’s culture and ethnobotanical history. The dedication will include a Māori dance troupe from Vancouver, British Columbia, to perform a traditional “haka,” or war dance. Caine Tauwhare, a Māori wood carver who carved the slats for a park bench in the new forest, is also traveling from Christchurch (Seattle’s sister city in New Zealand) for a demonstration. Members of the local Muckleshoot Tribe will be there to greet the Māori, who by custom won’t enter a new land until the native people have welcomed them. (In the lead-up to the formal dedication, the Burke Museum will be highlighting its New Zealand collection, and the Māori dance group and carver will be there on Saturday, September 14, for a separate performance and demo.)

Sunday’s festivities will also include a host of speakers, including speeches from Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn, UW Vice Provost for Global Affairs Jeffrey Riedinger, New Zealand Honorary Consul Rachel Jacobson, and senior officials from the University of Washington Botanic Gardens, Seattle Parks and Recreation, and the Arboretum Foundation.

New Zealand Forest

The New Zealand Forest last week, coming together beautifully in time for the public dedication.

Building the New Zealand Forest has been an enormous collaborative effort that has involved the support of many partners, including Seattle Parks and Recreation, the Arboretum Foundation and The Berger Partnership, the design firm hired for the project. UWBG Director Sarah Reichard and Hoyt have been closely involved in the planning and creation of this new exhibit since its inception, and they’re grateful for all of the community volunteers and energy, as well as the citizens of Seattle for supporting the levy that funded the garden’s infrastructure.

As the New Zealand Forest matures, it will be a spectacular new garden to enjoy at the Arboretum. Visitors will be able to immerse themselves in unfamiliar landscapes—modeled on actual plant communities from the South Island of New Zealand—and discover beautiful plants they’ve never seen before. When you do visit, though, be mindful that many of the plants will be small for a while yet. Of course, that’s part of the joy of a collection like this: It will continue growing and changing for as long as it’s here. “No garden is ever done,” says Reichard, and they will keep adding new plants for years to come.

Check back with UWBG closer to the date for the most updated schedule of activities. The dedication is free and open to the public—no ticket or RSVP required—and will take place at the Pacific Connections meadow at the south end of the Arboretum. There will be live music, a ribbon cutting, cake and lemonade, and tours of the new garden. So come out and explore the New Zealand Forest!

Parking and Transportation
Arboretum Drive will be open to one-way traffic, going south, for the duration of the event. Parking will be permitted along the right-hand side of the drive, as well as in designated Arboretum parking lots. To help reduce traffic, please consider using public transportation, or coming by bike or on foot.

New Zealand Forest
Photos © SEFS.

Introducing Kristin Buckley, Philanthropy Officer

Kristin Buckley

Kristin Buckley grew up on Orcas Island and graduated from UW’s Jackson School of International Studies.

This past May, the College of the Environment welcomed Kristin Buckley as a new philanthropy officer to work in support of the School of Environmental and Forest Sciences (SEFS) as well as other units in the college. After 16 years in a similar role with the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, Buckley brings a strong background in fundraising for scientific research.

The University of Washington (UW) will be familiar territory for Buckley, who grew up on Orcas Island and graduated from the Jackson School of International Studies. Her husband is also a UW alumnus who studied at the School of Aquatic and Fishery Sciences and now works as a research scientist.

Buckley has another personal connection that made her especially excited to work with SEFS: She and her husband have a family-owned forest on Natapoc Mountain in eastern Washington. They initially purchased it for recreational purposes, she says, but they’ve since taken classes to learn more about how to manage the land for the health of the forest. As time permits, she hopes to take advantage of the many seminars and learning opportunities that abound throughout the SEFS and college community.

Kristin Buckley

Buckley and her husband have a small family-owned forest on Natapoc Mountain in eastern Washington.

A little more than a month on the job, Buckley says she’s still “drinking from the fire hose of new information,” but that’s part of what motivates her about the role. “I’m really enjoying learning about all the research happening here,” she says. “I loved going to the graduations and seeing the enthusiasm of the students, and how SEFS has given them a foundation to go forward.”

As she works to grow that foundation, Buckley will be working with people who wish to support programs involving SEFS faculty and students. Her experience with the language and vocabulary of research will be a big asset. “One of the great things [about this position] is the opportunity to learn about the science and to then describe it for people who want to support the work,” she says.

Buckley remembers walking past Anderson Hall’s beautiful landscaping as a student, and as a long-time Seattle resident she’s spent many hours at the Washington Park Arboretum. Now, of course, her relationship to these facilities is a little deeper, and she can’t wait to work on behalf of the school and college. “Everybody has been so warm and welcoming,” she says. “I am fortunate to have joined such a smart, dynamic and dedicated group.”

She’ll be stationed at 3718 Brooklyn Ave. NE and can be reached at buckleyk@uw.edu. Please join us in welcoming Kristin to our community!

Photos © Kristin Buckley.

This May, the Blitz is On at the Arboretum!

BioBlitz

BioBlitzers come across all sorts of animals, including owls and beavers, as well as more slithery critters.

If you love surveying local flora and fauna, and testing your identification skills in the field, then mark your calendars for May 10 and 11, 2013, when the UW Botanic Gardens will be hosting its third BioBlitz at the Washington Park Arboretum!

A BioBlitz, for the uninitiated, is a biological inventory that takes place over a short period of time, and in a specific location—in this case, the Arboretum. The purpose of a BioBlitz is to take a snapshot of biodiversity as a way to measure the health of an ecosystem. The more organisms found, the healthier the ecosystem.

For the UWBG, the BioBlitz is an important tool to help manage their site as sustainably as possible. It’s also a great way to connect the UW academic community with the general Seattle community, and in the process, raise awareness of the importance of biodiversity, including in urban environments. And for those who participate, a BioBlitz is hands-on and fast-paced, and a lot of fun, says Patrick Mulligan, UWBG education supervisor at the Washington Park Arboretum.

BioBlitz

Mushrooms galore!

The way it works is that small groups of citizen scientists and UW students head out with a team leader—GPS/data collector and notebooks in hand—for 2.5-hour shifts in search of various taxa (birds, bugs, fungi, plants, etc.). As a team, they try to ID and count what they find, and record the location where they found it; in some hard-to-identify cases (e.g. fungi, insects), specimens are collected to be keyed out and identified later.

Sound like fun? Mulligan is still looking for taxa team leaders! Whether you’re a graduate or undergraduate student, TA or RA, professor or professional scientist, there are lots of ways to get involved. Each team has room for eight participants, and there are several shifts each day, so contact Mulligan for more specific information.

One year, BioBlitzers found a potentially new species of spider. This year, what might you find?

Photos courtesy of Patrick Mulligan.

Arboretum History, Maps Going Digital

Grid Map

Arboretum grid map, before.

Since it opened in 1934, the Washington Park Arboretum has hosted thousands of plant collections and species, each with a meticulously kept record and history. Until recently, many of those details from 1934 through the 1980s—when the database became digital—have been preserved solely on paper, scribbled on grid maps or filed in countless handwritten notes.

This past August, though, the University of Washington Botanic Gardens (UWBG) received a grant from the Institute for Museum and Library Services to begin digitizing those records and create an interactive Geographic Information Systems (GIS) map for the entire park. In the end, planners and visitors will be able to go online and pinpoint specific plants and collections within the arboretum, and access all sorts of historical details—a prospect that has everyone at UWBG and the arboretum buzzing.

“People will be able to find an area in the Arboretum, then zoom down and see which plants are there,” says Tracy Mehlin, project manager and information technology librarian at the Center for Urban Horticulture. “It will be really fascinating and educational to have all of that history linked to the plant records, and accessible online to everyone.”

Grid Map

Arboretum grid map, after.

One of the first tasks of the project was to begin surveying and verifying the geospatial coordinates of the 230-acre park, which decades ago was originally divided into 595 grid squares, each 100 feet by 100 feet. When those grid markers and coordinates are confirmed, they will be used to create a map that supports the geo-referenced database. Two- and three-person teams of students and staff have already been out surveying for the past couple months.

It’s a multi-tiered project, and Mehlin has been working closely with other partners at the School of Environmental and Forest Sciences (SEFS).

Sarah Reichard, director of UWBG, is the principal investigator on the grant along with Soo-Hyung Kim, a professor of plant ecophysiology. Jim Lutz, a research scientist and engineer with the College of the Environment, has been helping coordinate the student survey crews and GIS mapping, and David Campbell is working on the searchable database and Web interface. Others involved are helping with various projects, including digitizing the existing maps, as well as handwritten notes and histories attached to each of the park’s 10,000 accessions (plants specifically added and catalogued as part of the arboretum’s collections).When completed, the searchable database will be a boon for environmental research and park management. It will also expand interpretative opportunities for visitors.

“The really fun part of it starts when it’s done,” says Reichard. “The idea is that eventually you’d be able to get the coordinates of a particular collection, like our magnolias, and locate them on your cell phone or GPS unit. We can start putting together virtual tours, and visitors can go from plant to plant.”

The grant covers two years and is expected to run through August 2014. By then, anyone with a Web-connected device will have unprecedented access to most of the living collections—barring a few rare species—at the arboretum. And for the rest, you’ll just have to come out and explore the park on foot!

Images courtesy of Tracy Mehlin.