WSU students aid in recovery after SR 530 mudslide


By Sylvia Kantor, College of Agricultural, Human & Natural Resource Sciences

OSO, Wash. – Kendra Knepper’s father was among local firefighters involved in rescue efforts following the devastating mudslide along State Route 530 in March. Now, she’s glad to be involved herself. A criminal justice major at Washington State University, she is one of 10 interns working this summer in communities affected by the powerful landslide.

“It definitely feels good. I feel like (my dad) was the one representing our family, and it’s kind of nice being able to do something also,” Knepper said.

The interns are part of a nine-week WSU internship program designed to help the communities of Darrington and Arlington regain their footing economically, environmentally and socially.

Living on hope, improving the future

“What a lot of the folks in the Stilly Valley are living on now is hope,” said Bob Drewel, interim chancellor of WSU North Puget Sound at Everett. “And what these students are going to provide is not only hope, but the reality that things will be better.”

SR 530 mudslide with memorial flowers. (Photos by Adam Wallberg, WSU)

Drewel addressed the interns during orientation before they met Mayor Barbara Tolbert of Arlington and Mayor Dan Rankin of Darrington.

“As we look for opportunities to recover the economy in this area, look at our emergency plans and work out something better for the communities in the future, (the interns) are all going to be a part of that work that’s just starting,” Tolbert said.

Interns with the City of Arlington are working on protecting the municipal water supply, memorializing the landslide site and conducting outreach and communication activities.

Rankin has no staff and is glad to have help from three interns working on public projects, community outreach and events and public relations.

“With any luck we can not only enrich this community but send (the interns) forward with wisdom of what rural life could be like and what it means to be connected to a small, small community,” he said.

Giving back to their home towns

During orientation, the interns met first responders Dennis Fenstermaker (Darrington fire chief) and Jan and Jeff McLelland. The interns listened closely as the trio described initial rescue efforts at the site of the slide, and then the students were escorted by a deputy sheriff to get a closer look at the site.

WSU summer interns view the site of the March 22 mudslide on SR 530 between Darrington and Arlington. (Photo by Sylvia Kantor, WSU)

“It was a very emotional experience seeing the magnitude of the slide,” said Tesia Lingenfelter, an intern from Arlington who was in Pullman when the slide happened. “Seeing aerial photos doesn’t do it justice. It wasn’t just a hill that came down; it was a mountainside. It was very sobering to see.”

All of the interns are motivated by a desire to give back to the affected communities, and most of them call the area their home.

“I really want to help show (the communities) that WSU is here for them and that we can be used as a vital resource,” said Colby Cavanaugh, a communications major. “We’re here to help, but we’re a part of them. We’re not a federal agency here to come take control of everything.  We’re locals – it helps that we’re from the area.”

Interns working with Snohomish County and WSU Extension are focused on water quality monitoring, summer youth programming, natural resource education, nutrition education and documenting the experience of the intern cohort over the nine-week program.

Beyond summer, in it for the long haul

Over the longer term, WSU is committed to helping the affected communities in a number of ways. Student interns in Pullman are organizing a campus fundraising banquet to be held on Sept. 5 that will benefit recovery efforts, as well as a student community service weekend in Darrington this fall.

President Elson S. Floyd has offered tuition waivers for the 2014-15 school year to students in the affected communities, including many of the summer interns.

WSU Snohomish County Extension hired a full time community and economic development coordinator, Judy Pendergrass of Darrington, to work with local businesses and government officials as well as families and youth to coordinate development efforts locally through 2016.

Members of the WSU 530 slide recovery team serve on the Snohomish County multiagency task force on human services and the Darrington economic redevelopment team helping to identify and apply for grants and providing relevant expertise, research and information.

With all WSU has offered so far, including expertise to improve energy conservation, digital connectivity and tourism and hospitality, the mayors of the two impacted communities couldn’t be more pleased.

“WSU has been an amazing partner that came to the table pretty early on, as our communities were struggling with the search and recovery efforts, recognizing that there would be some long-term impacts and urging us to start thinking about the next steps and to put together some recovery plans,” Tolbert said.

“I’m really pleased with how much (WSU has) come forward and helped throughout this event and helped my community personally,” said Rankin. “That goes beyond the interns and the tuition. It goes with feasibility issues, it goes with helping us build a road to our future. And all of those things really kind of help us become whole and well again.”

Learn more about WSU efforts to support these communities at
Michael J. Gaffney, WSU Division of Governmental Studies and Services, 509-335-3329,
Sylvia Kantor, WSU CAHNRS Communications, 206-770-6063,