Volunteer leads program that keeps BI parks, trails pristine

From Fort Ward and Fay Bainbridge to the Grand Forest and Gazzam Lake, Bainbridge Islanders have ample access to public parks and trails.

Morgan Houk, volunteer program manager for the BI Metro Parks and Recreation District, has found a way to bring the community even closer to its outdoor destinations.

Houk runs volunteer work parties with community groups to help maintain natural areas. She and her volunteers remove invasive species, plant native species and build habitats.

“It takes many hands to do that sort of work,” she said.

The park district’s need for helping hands is greeted by a variety of eager volunteers. Sports teams, school groups and curious community members attend Houk’s work parties to serve themselves and their communities, simultaneously building a rich knowledge of natural resources and BI history.

Much of the history relates to BI’s distinct culture of volunteerism. Houk appreciates that connection.

“A lot of folks don’t realize that the park district was actually founded by volunteers from the Rotary Club in the ’60s,” she said.

Houk commended the park district’s collaboration with organizations like Rotary and the BI Land Trust, extending a “huge kudos to the staff of all of the organizations that came before” her.

While inter-organizational relationships are crucial to the park district’s success, Houk’s responsibilities extend beyond those connections. She actively engages with individuals and groups from diverse backgrounds, always eager to forge personal bonds with work-party participants. From the intricacies of tree health and canopy dynamics to the nuances of soil health and erosion, there is no shortage of topics for her to discuss.

“For the most part, I just yammer on and whoever wants to listen can listen,” she said.

Recounting a meaningful work-related moment, Houk remembered a young volunteer who chose to complete a school project about park district involvement featuring pictures from a work party. Months later, upon learning about the school project, Houk was touched. “It was the sweetest thing I’ve ever seen in my entire life.”

Houk also relishes the solitary aspects of her job. The self-proclaimed “hermit” embraces opportunities to visit work sites and imagine their potential. Finding projects that are enjoyable for volunteers and beneficial to the environment is essential to her.

Houk’s attentive and affable personality renders her perfect for her job. Through a balance of contemplation and collaboration, she helps to mold the environment that beautifully maintains BI parks and trails.

Maya Liffgens is a junior at Bainbridge High School.