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Originally published Friday, August 9, 2013 at 11:07 AM

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Corps work: Get good exercise for the good Earth

Fit for Life columnist Nicole Tsong is all in for working hard and doing good for the planet by volunteering with EarthCorps, the nonprofit Seattle-based organization dedicated to environmental restoration and developing community leaders.

Special to The Seattle Times

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BURIED DEEP in a thicket of sword ferns in Lincoln Park in West Seattle, wrestling with vine after vine of English ivy, I wished I had worn a heart monitor. Crouching in a forest and pulling out English ivy by the roots isn’t easy; I wanted to know exactly how hard I was working.

Unfortunately, I didn’t think ahead. So I relied on the fact that I was doing something good for the environment, and also the feelings in my legs, lower back and shoulders that told me weeding a forest for three hours or so is plain hard work.

Plenty of studies tell us that working out keeps us strong and elevates our mood, which can only be good for people around us. Most of us work out for the endorphins, to build strength, to get fit. Still, I don’t count going to the gym as public service.

Then there is EarthCorps. The nonprofit Seattle-based organization is dedicated to environmental restoration and developing community leaders, and its volunteer work requires physical effort for improving not only Lincoln Park but Magnuson Park in the North End and others scattered around Puget Sound. Working hard and doing good for the planet? Count me in.

The EarthCorps calendar is packed with projects around the region. I joined a crew working on Lincoln Park for several hours on a hot, sunny day.

Our leaders gave us a basic primer about that day’s task: pulling out that stubborn ivy. The invasive species spreads on the forest floor, choking out native vegetation and growing up the trunks of trees. We were there to pull out as much as possible.

We walked deep into the park and spread out, armed with tools including a tiller, which I never used. Volunteers sometimes plant native vegetation or do other tasks; today’s focus was ivy.

If you like weeding at all, weeding a forest is a whole lot more fun. One of our leaders, Dylan, taught us to identify the dark green leaves with light, visible vines, then sent us out.

We attacked. There is something immensely satisfying about getting an ivy vine and pulling it out by the roots. Ivy was everywhere, carpeting the ground, and we pulled vine after vine, creating big piles that we composted nearby. We moved between prickly patches of trees to swaths of sword ferns, using gloves for protection as we weeded. Those who were good at plant identification took on other invasive species.

Chatting with my fellow volunteers kept me motivated. People were there for all kinds of reasons: company volunteer hours, resume-building, school credit, a commitment to regular environmental volunteer work.

Working in a cool, quiet forest on a beautiful day was soothing and took on its own rhythm. I liked learning about the environmental challenges in local parks that I use all the time. Lincoln Park is a particular favorite, and I felt like I was contributing in a real way to a beautiful green place. That day, we probably covered about 10,000 square feet, one leader told us.

It was rewarding to do something that required physical effort, and a whole lot gratifying to know I was doing public service. If you’re looking to plunge into a cause and want something active, this kind of volunteer work — a little physical, a whole lot good for the planet — is an ideal way to give back.

Nicole Tsong teaches yoga at studios around Seattle. Email: Benjamin Benschneider is a Pacific NW magazine staff photographer.

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