Since 1987, the Well-K.E.P.T. program has been giving Bellevue youths interested in the natural world a chance to get paid professional experience doing environmental work.
At a Feb. 10 extended study session, park ranger Curtis Kukal and natural resource manager Geoff Bradley of Bellevue Parks and Community Services shared with the city council what the program had accomplished in 2019.
Well-K.E.P.T. (Kids Environmental Project Training) is part of Parks’ nature parks and visitor center program, and it caters explicitly to community members between the ages of 14 and 18. It usually starts at the end of June or the beginning of July — depending on when school gets out — and then continues for about two months.
“It’s really our outreach and involvement program,” Bradley said of the nature parks and visitor center program, which also covers environmental education, park rangers, volunteer coordination and community farms and gardens.
A Well-K.E.P.T. “crew” typically consists of 10 youths (i.e., student interns) and two supervisor crew leads who oversee everyday activities.
“If you’re a Bellevue teen and you have reasonable availability and meet the minimum requirements of the position…[you have about] a 95% chance of getting into the program when we have two crews,” said Kukal, who is in charge of hiring and who coordinates the program.
Every year, the program sees crews performing tasks relating most often to trail maintenance and forest management. It also includes educational workshops that focus on “adulting” (like interviewing skills, financial planning, résumé and cover letter courses) and in general Bellevue’s natural-resource maintenance efforts.
“It’s one thing to think about Earth Day or recycling, but it’s really another for a 15-year-old kid to participate in managing an urban forest,” Kukal said.
The goal of the program, according to Kukal, is to provide local youth with an employment opportunity specifically in the park restoration management field and help with career development, job skills and more.
“I’ve been approached by parents before of some of these kids who’ve said, ‘I’m really excited to see how this goes — I’ve never seen him sweat before,’” Kukal said. “I can tell you that most of the Bellevue Well-K.E.P.T. trainees come into the program never using a shovel, pushing a wheelbarrow or working outside when the temperature gets above 85.”
When it comes to projects a Well-K.E.P.T. crew might embark on, most focused on is hiking-trail renovation and forest management (including noxious weed removal or native plant installations). Sometimes, special projects, such as blueberry farm maintenance and park infrastructure improvements, occur.
For 2019, Well-K.E.P.T. personnel estimate that 19,500 square feet (about half an acre) of invasive plant species were removed across several city parks.
Kelsey Creek Park saw 4,680 square feet of jewelweed, bindweed and English ivy eliminated, with 2,300 square feet of noxious weeds removed from Lake Hills Greenbelt and 3,600 square feet from Wilburton Hill Park. (At the latter location, 200 native plants were implemented.) Some 7,223 square feet of Himalayan blackberry and bindweed were also taken out of Lewis Creek Park.
In the Coal Creek Natural Area, Well-K.E.P.T. in 2019 renovated some 5,649 linear feet of natural area trail. Citywide, routine maintenance was completed on 34,302 linear feet worth of trails.
“We certainly get to foster natural interest and enthusiasm amongst the kids,” Kukal said.
The council was receptive to Bradley and Kukal’s update, and had some questions about how much the program pays (minimum wage), partnership possibilities, similar opportunities during the school year and more.
“I think it’s a great program, and I encourage any youth to apply for it,” said Councilmember Jennifer Robertson, who in the past was a liaison to the parks board.
Mayor Lynne Robinson also spoke highly of the parks department and the Well-K.E.P.T. program.
“I am a beneficiary of all this work because I use the trails all the time,” she said. “They’re just wonderful. I’m always noticing new maintenance and new paths and more bark. When a tree comes down, it’s never there more than 24 hours…so thank you for all your work — it’s just remarkable what an asset this is for the whole community.”
For a full update on the Well-K.E.P.T. program, watch the meeting recording online (https://bit.ly/2PnLRgB). For more background on the program, go to the meeting agenda item online (https://bit.ly/3bZpHuV).