City Council honors Girl Scout troop for removing aquatic invasives from Lake Ballinger

Troop 44253 Girl Scouts (l-r) Kathleen Joyce, Temple Mize and Ava Picasso, center, are recognized by Mountlake Terrace Recreation and Parks Advisory Committee members Don Enochs, left, and Noah Knodle, right, for their work to remove invasive plants from Lake Ballinger. (Photo by Teresa Wippel)

The Mountlake Terrace City Council Monday night recognized Girl Scout Troop 44253 for the girls’ work last summer to help control aquatic invasive plants  in Lake Ballinger.

The girls of Troop 44253 – Temple Mize, Kathleen Joyce, and Ava Picasso – are working toward earning their Silver Award, the highest honor a Girl Scout Cadette can achieve. Cadettes are girls in sixth, seventh or eighth grades.

The Silver Award challenges girls to work together in a group, look about their community, ask what can be done to improve it, and then develop a project to make the community better. It is second in rank only to the Gold Award, the highest rank in Girl Scouts eligible to be earned by high school-age girls working individually.

Temple Mize first learned of the problem with invasive fragrant water lilies from a walk around Lake Ballinger Park. She had read a recent article in MLTnews about water quality problems in the lake, and how dense vegetation  creates low oxygen and high phosphorous, both of which are bad for water quality and for fish. The article described different control measures to reduce the amount of invasive aquatic plants, including chemical treatment, but noted that for the invasive fragrant water lily, manual removal by hand-pulling or raking was most effective, so long as the lilies were taken out of the lake in order to remove the nutrients.

Temple thought this was something she and her Girl Scout troop could do to help improve Lake Ballinger, and so she quickly recruited her fellow troop members Ava and Kathleen to join in working on the Silver Award. “Even young kids can make a difference that can help the environment and others,” said Ava, “By doing this badge I hope that I can make a positive impact on the environment of Mountlake Terrace.”

The girls surveying water lilies on Lake Ballinger. (Photos courtesy James Mize)

Together the girls researched how to remove the invasive lilies, and came up with a plan to use canoes to get lilies away from shore.

The Silver Award requires identifying community members the girls can work with, and through the MLTnews article they connected with two City of Mountlake Terrace employees: Park Services & Property Management Superintendent Ken Courtmanch has coordinated several projects with local scouting organizations, and Stormwater Program Manager Laura Reed was ready to help the scouts with cleaning up the lake.

The girls took their project seriously, prepared a PowerPoint presentation, and pitched the city officials for permission to remove the lilies. They also asked for support with waste disposal once the invasive plants were removed. While they were a little nervous, the girls were persuasive. “It reminded me of moot court!”  Kathleen said.

The scouts with a pile of water lilies they removed. 

The Girl Scouts had to carefully prepare their planned project, making sure they covered safety considerations, species identification, removal techniques, and program logistics. It was also important to have an outreach component to let the neighbors know what was being done and what they could do to help.

For safety, the girls passed swim tests and dedicated a full day to training in handling canoes. For greater stability and load-carrying capacity, they designed a catamaran approach where two canoes were lashed together with a platform to carry the weeds. The girls made several site visits and enlisted help from specialists with botany training, and refined the scope of the project and focus area for removals.

As the lilies grew over the summer, it became clear that there were so many invasive lilies that they would not be able to remove them all. The girls determined that a good outcome would be to learn what techniques were most effective to remove the plants. Removal had to be carefully done because if the roots (rhizomes) were shredded and stirred up, they could propagate more lilies, the opposite of what was intended. Experimenting with several tools, the girls determined that the four-tined garden cultivator worked best for hard-to- remove stalks, especially when twirling like using a fork on spaghetti. And just using hands worked well for the smaller stalks.

“I learned how to pull lilies without the rhizomes,” Temple said matter-of-factly, “And others should also know that.”

The troop created handouts to describe the project.

For the day of removal on Aug. 17, the scouts made handouts to explain to park visitors and neighbors what was being done. Kathleen used her drawing skills and Ava her writing and layout talents to make an informative flyer.  For a full day of pulling lilies, with a little help from family members recruited to join, the girls managed to build an impressive pile of invasive lilies and made a significant dent in their area of focus. They also received thanks from neighbors passing by.

The girls plan to mail out a “lessons learned” informational bulletin to adjacent waterfront landowners to let them know what worked, what didn’t, and what they can do to help. They are also compiling a video short for the city to post on its website.




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