HELPING HABIT — Sunnyside High School junior Gonzalo Palafox spent Thursday helping to weed section of the Yakima River flood plain near South Emerald Road. Palafox was one of 28 Yakima Valley College Upward Bound students learning about the river’s eco-system.

SUNNYSIDE — When it comes to weeding pastureland, the Mid-Columbia Fisheries Enhancement Group calls the process “land stewardship.”

But for the 28 Yakima Valley College Upward Bound students on a tour of the Heavenly Hills Harvest Farm – it was plain old weeding and some of it was messy, Emily Marchello, a Sunnyside High School senior claimed.

“It was hard work, but interesting,” she conceded during a short lunch break at Merritt Mitchell Wajeeh’s farm on South Emerald Road.

The Wajeeh farm is one of several valley farms along the Yakima River shoreline being used to reclaim the shoreline, as well as restoring fish habitats, Wajeeh explained.

The weeds the students were carefully removing from the shore were Russian thistle and hemlock while leaving behind less invasive plants.

Marchello and her group had spent the morning learning about the different foliage growing wild along the banks of the Yakima River, and “why it is important to care for the river and its shores,” explained Aaron Balagot of the Mid-Columbia Fisheries Enhancement Group.

“We are coordinating with Upward Bound to give students a different perspective of what jobs are available in the field of biology and ecology studies,” he said.

The Upward Bound program usually focuses on academics, but the six-week summer program also includes field trips to expose the students to other fields of interest- like the Mid-Columbia Fisheries Enhancement group’s work.

“I had never considered some of these jobs,” admitted Portia Castilleja of Toppenish High School.

“I liked learning about the plants, while working with them,” she stated.

“Lot of what they (the enhancement group) is doing is helping to cool the river,” Sunnyside High School senior Karen Hernandez added.

In addition to being exposed to the native plant life, the students learned about the river’s fish and bugs they feed on.

And Wajeeh gets some help removing “bad” weeds while maintaining erosion control on her bit of the river’s ever-changing flood plain.

Julia Hart can be reached at 509-837-4500, ext. 123 or at

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