A garden trowel in her hand, Heather Heiderich looked around the former Paradise Campground and a smile spread across her face. On her knees, she had just finished planting a Pacific silver fir seedling in the rocky soil.
The 6-inch seedling was one of 72 planted by a dozen University of Washington Tacoma students Thursday, part of an unofficial memorial to Margaret Anderson, the law enforcement ranger shot and killed Jan. 1 at Mount Rainier National Park.
Thursday’s planting was the culmination of an effort started by staff members at North Cascades National Park and residents of the Skagit Valley who wanted to honor Anderson.
“It’s neat to be part of this experience, to leave something behind for people to remember her,” Heiderich said.
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“I love this park,” said Elanor Wolff of Olympia. “It’s neat to do something that will last a long time in honor of someone else who loved the park.”
Each seedling was in a Cruiser Coffee cup, decorated with drawings or messages. One had a family of four stick figures – commemorating the Anderson family – with the message, “You will not be forgotten,” written on the side.
“May your family remember that loves grows from a seedling in the heart” and “Thank you for the ultimate sacrifice. In giving your life, you saved others,” read others.
Anderson, 34 when she died, is survived by her husband, Eric, and two young daughters. Eric Anderson also was a law enforcement ranger at Mount Rainier at the time of the shooting. He since has taken another position with the National Park Service in Boise.
The paper cups – with slits in the sides and bottom to allow the seedlings to grow – were just like those dropped at the time of the shooting by Homeland Security helicopter pilots to snow campers in the park to warn them of the incident.
The project was the perfect combination to honor Anderson, said Will Arnesen, the park’s ecological restoration supervisor.
“We could have planted (the seedlings) anywhere,” he said. “They would have done better at a lower elevation. But we wanted to have that connection to Paradise and Margaret.”
Anderson was in charge of the snowplay area at Paradise, and was working there on New Year’s Day when Benjamin Barnes drove through a snow chain checkpoint near the park entrance. Anderson set up a roadblock at Barn Flat, less than a football field away from where the seedlings were planted, where she was fatally shot.
Barnes’ body was found the next day in Paradise River; he drowned while suffering from hypothermia.
The seedlings were extras from specimens collected along the Paradise River corridor for a research project. Already 3 to 4 years old, they will stand among the other Pacific silver and subalpine fir that rise above the campground decommissioned in the 1970s.
“I thought this site was very appropriate,” Arnesen said. “We wanted it to have a connection to Margaret.”
Helping the class with the planting was Ed Lawler, a biological science technician at the park. He worked for Anderson at the snowplay area the first year she worked at the park four years ago.
“It’s a sense of closure for me,” he said. “It’s a nice little remembrance for Margaret. But I don’t think I’ll every forget something like that.”
Also on hand was Kevin Bacher, the park’s volunteer coordinator, taking photos of the class in action.
“I’ve been walking around all morning with tears in my eyes,” he said.
The trees will serve only as an informal memorial, Bacher said. A park committee is studying ways to best honor Anderson, climbing rangers Nick Hall, Phil Otis and Sean Ryan. Hall died during a rescue in June; Otis and Ryan died during a rescue in 1995.
In just a couple hours, on her first trip ever to the park, Heiderich said the former campground had become a special spot.
“I will bring my kids back here,” said the Fircrest resident. “It’s cool to be part of something lasting that will honor the ranger.”
Jeffrey P. Mayor: 253-597-8640