CK Faces: Barker Creek devotee graduates to Earth Day honors

When Derek Schruhl was 3, his family moved into a home on Nels Nelson Road. Barker Creek cuts the property in half.

“That’s where I’ve learned to have an appreciation for it and everything I’ve done so far is to try to understand it,” he said about the creek.

Derek, now 19, has been involved with the Chums of Barkers Creek organization for years and was recently awarded the county’s Earth Day award for environmental leadership.

He was attending community meetings with his parents even before he was old enough to attend elementary school and before the Chums were formed in 1993.

“He was just a little child at the time but the parents were very active and always took their children with them to meetings,” said Mary Bertrand, Chums of Barker Creek president.

From a tag-along at his father’s Chums’ meetings, Derek has now graduated to board member for the environmental group.

“Being that I’ve lived there my whole life, you kind of get a sense of ownership not only for your part of the stream but for the whole watershed,” Derek said.

When he was 7, Derek helped release 30,000 coho salmon into the creek that runs in his parents’ backyard. He was a Chum by association, his father Daryl Schruhl is vice president of the group. But it was not until he was ready to graduate from Olympic High School in 2004 that Derek got involved with Barker Creek preservation more actively.

“Now that he’s in college he’s become really, scientifically active,” Bertrand said.

“He was assimilating a lot of this stuff when he was growing up,” she added. “It probably impacted him a lot more than we realized.”

Now in his second year at Olympic College, Derek has been taking organic chemistry, biology, meteorology and geology classes and has added many Chums duties to his hectic schedule.

Derek has been walking the Three Springs Site, a 10-acre parcel of mature forest off of Nels Nelson Road, for many, many hours in the last year-and-a-half. He keeps and updates an inventory of all animal and plant life he discovers on his visits.

“(Three Springs) offers a great diversity,” he said. “There’s the mature forest, the wetlands and everything in between. You’ve got different types of birds that use the site, different types of mammals that use the site.”

Since the Chums took Three Springs under its protection in the mid-1990s, the intention has been to preserve it as an outdoor classroom for local school children and the community. A trail system was designed and Derek helped out with that project as well.

A stewardship committee, made up of Chums of Barker Creek members, school and county officials, was formed to look after Three Springs and other parcels of land in the creek watershed.

Derek’s father likes to see the Barker Creek corridor as a passive, educational area, in contrast to the active, public-access Clear Creek Trail project.

Derek, too, has gotten involved with the stewardship committee to help ensure the land pieces the Chums have helped acquire thanks to grant funds remain pristine for education and salmon habitat purposes.

Still tagging along with his father, Derek also conducts research to help contribute to Daryl’s role in the citizen advisory committee for the Silverdale Sub-Area Plan.

“He’s sought a lot of it out on his own,” Daryl said about his son’s interest in matters of environment and urban growth. “It amazes me the amount of research he’ll go out and do.

“It’s a real internal drive. I hopefully gave him a little bit of opportunity and he ran with it.”

In her nomination letter for the Earth Day award, Margarite Juarez Thomas, environmental health technician with the health district’s Water Quality Program, wrote, “Derek is a rarity among community activists because he understands the roles of various government agencies and community groups play in watershed protection.”

When Derek volunteered to help her with the Pollution Identification and Correction project on Barker Creek, he helped identify several tributaries missing from Juarez Thomas’ maps.

“He’s really enthusiastic and really involved all the time,” she said. “It’s pretty much all he thinks about.”

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