Interview by Maya Klem: “Forest Steward Spotlight- Karuna Poole”

What park do you work at?

Cheasty Greenspace on North Beacon Hill.

How long have you been involved with Green Seattle and why did you chose the park where you work?

This stretch of Seattle’s Greenbelt is behind my house. The land had been overrun by blackberry vines and ivy for about 30-50 years. By 2016, the densely packed blackberry vines were five to nine feet tall on most of the property. One day in August of that year, I decided I wasn’t willing to stand by and watch trees die anymore. I found my shears and started cutting the vines away from the trees. Then I had an idea. I belong to a group known as GreenFriends. Some of the GreenFriends members in our area agreed to take on this endeavor as one of their projects. Soon thereafter, we started working with the Green Seattle Partnership.

What keeps you volunteering with the Green Seattle Partnership?

I love the work. I love watching the land transform in front of my eyes. I love working with the Green Seattle Partnership staff. I love working with the volunteers. I love serving Mother Nature. I am so grateful for all the help I receive from Green Seattle Partnership. The Partnership provides classes and supervision that is invaluable. They also provide us with the supplies we use and the trees, shrubs and ground covers we plant.

Do you have a favorite memory from your involvement?

I remember a time when I was cutting through a mass of blackberry vines and saw what looked like a small section of a concrete block. Over the next few weeks, I saw more glimpses of concrete. I remember thinking the block was at least eight feet long. What could it be? How did it get here? In March 2017, Seattle Parks Department staff cut down blackberry canes throughout the site. It was at that time, we discovered that the concrete was part of the slab foundation of a house. We think it might have burned down in the 1950’s. We turned that foundation into a place we call “The Rack Zone.” The rack zone contains the racks where we dry most of the invasive debris we have removed from the site.

What is something funny or unusual that has happened at an event/while volunteering?

It may seem strange, but I am fascinated by the trash we have found during work parties. We have removed around a hundred golf balls, four golf clubs, stuffed animals, and much, much more. My favorite items have been toy dinosaurs, a plumber’s tool kit from the 50’s, metal handcuffs and a gold bracelet studded with 27 “diamonds.” I found the bracelet, about six inches underground, when I was digging out a blackberry root ball. I assumed it was costume jewelry but as days went by, I kept thinking, “What if it isn’t?” I took it to a jeweler who, after looking at it under a microscope, determined that it was “fun jewelry”.

What part of the work makes you feel that you are making a difference in your community through forest restoration?

During the last 27 months we’ve replaced invasive plants with 88 trees and 750 shrubs and ground covers. There is no question that we are making a difference in our community as we restore this part of the Greenbelt to a place that provides shelter and food for wildlife, enhances air quality, and provides beauty and tranquility for humans and other living beings.

Is there a specific time when you looked at your restoration and felt like you were finally making progress? If so, tell us about it. If you haven’t had that moment yet, what do you think will make you feel like you are finally making progress on the ground?

Soon after I started the project, I realized that it would become much bigger than the area behind my house. Still, I was stunned and overwhelmed when the Seattle Parks Department staff cut down the invasive vines on most of the site. How in the world would we manage this huge amount of work with such a small number of volunteers? After a sleepless night, it occurred to me that it was a good opportunity to practice staying in the moment by focusing on one task at a time. That day, I decided to clear blackberries and weeds from one small area. Three hours later, I was amazed by how much I had accomplished. Suddenly, the project seemed doable. We would do it one step at a time.

If you were plant species found at your restoration site (native or non-native) which would it be and why?

I don’t have a clue how I am like Roemer’s fescue but I do know that the plant fascinates me!

If you aren’t working in the park where would we most likely find you and what would you be doing?

You would probably find me inside, in front of my laptop. I coordinate the process of putting together a monthly GreenFriends online newsletter that is usually 30-35 pages long. I also write for my blog, “Living, Learning and Letting Go.”

Anything else you want us to know?

We’ve offered around 40 work parties since we started this project. Some events have had three volunteers, our biggest had 47. I appreciate Shirley Rutherford, Claire Oravec, Haley Rutherford, and the other volunteers who have served as team leaders during our events. I appreciate Susan Zeaman, a Forest Steward from another Cheasty Greenspace park, who has been a mentor to me. I appreciate my neighbor John O’Brien who has attended almost every work party and has worked many hours on his own, or with me, in addition to the work parties. I appreciate the environmental science students, corporate groups and other volunteers who have supported this project through their enthusiasm and their labor.

To learn more about Karuna and her team’s work visit her blog by clicking here

Want to have your own chance to meet Karuna and to hear more about her time as a Forest Steward with Green Seattle? Then starting in the new year, you should attend one of the upcoming volunteer work parties at Cheasty Blvd. and help Karuna to continue her Forest Steward legacy!

~~~

Maya Klem

Stewardship Associate, Forterra

Maya was born and raised in the Pacific Northwest, and is thrilled to be part of a team dedicated to protecting the land she has always called home. Maya recently graduated Western Washington University where she studied Biology, Chemistry, and Spanish.   During her time in college, she discovered a passion for conservation and restoration work while studying in the jungles of Costa Rica and Peru. Aside from exploring tropical and temperate forests, Maya enjoys cooking, traveling, skiing, and smiling at dogs. Maya is serving a one year AmeriCorps term with Forterra.

Greenbelt Restoration Work Party: A New Beginning- December 10, 2018

In August of 2016, if you had stood on the property that borders the western section of our GreenFriends Greenbelt Restoration Project, you would have seen land covered by blackberry, bindweed and ivy vines.

If you viewed the Greenbelt from that same place today, you would see an expanse of cleared land. The invasive plants have been replaced by more than 800 native trees, shrubs and ground covers.

While there will always be more work to do on this site… lots more… it also seemed like it was time for us to begin to focus on the adjacent Greenbelt site, the one to the north of the Hanford Stairs. I have been eager to begin that work in earnest for some time.

On December 10, we held a tiny work party. Four of the five people who registered for the event were individuals who have served as team leaders at previous work parties.  Most of them have been involved with this project from the beginning. (The fifth person was a neighbor we had not met before. She and her daughter came for the last hour of the work party and dove right in; helping wherever they were needed. I look forward to working with the two of them in the future.)

This small group was an ideal way to begin our new focus. The photos below show what the area looked like when we began to work that morning.

(Click on any of the galleries to enlarge the photos.)

Before the work party:

Three of the participants worked in areas along the Hanford Stairs; one worked towards the top of the stairs, one in the middle and one towards the bottom. I cleaned up an old trash dump that was about 20 feet into the site. When I needed a break from trash, I pulled out ivy in the surrounding area.

This work party was interesting for a variety of reasons. It was the first time in years that we were working as individuals instead of leading teams of volunteers. Also, since we were each working in a different area, there was almost no interaction between us. From time to time, it was so quiet that I wondered if everyone had gone home. Soon after having that unlikely thought, I would see or hear the rustling of a branch and know I wasn’t alone. Working in the silence felt very sacred to me.

We accomplished so much during that three-hour period. The transformation was remarkable.

After the work party:

This land seems very different than our original site. There are fewer blackberry vines and more ivy. There are a lot of sword ferns and Oregon Grape shrubs. It will be interesting to see what other native plants are present when as everything begins to bloom in the Spring.

We’ve barely begun to explore this site, but we only need to look beyond the Hanford Stairs to see what our next steps will be.

Greenbelt Restoration Work Party: DocuSign Planting Day- November 15, 2018

The November 15th planting day work party was the sixth forest restoration event we had held in six weeks. The first five work parties focused on preparing the site for the 33 native trees and 220 native shrubs and ground covers we would be planting. This was our fall 2018 plant list:

On November 15, 2017, a corporate group from DocuSign came to work at our restoration site. The event was held on their Global IMPACT Day. At that time, I looked up the philosophy behind Impact Day and found this statement:

We believe character is defined through action. With DocuSign IMPACT, we are committed to putting this character into action by harnessing the power of DocuSign’s people, products, and profits to make a difference in the global communities in which our employees and customers live and work.

Employees from DocuSign returned for another IMPACT day on April 27, 2018  and they would also be doing our Fall 2018 planting. I love working with them and was eager for their arrival.

The big day finally arrived. This time, 22 employees participated. Our staff consisted of Maya from Forterra; Susan, a Forest Steward from another Cheasty Greenspace site; Claire and Shirley from GreenFriends and me.

After a brief orientation, we got to work. I think the photographs below say it all!

(Click on any of the galleries to enlarge the photos.)

 

 

Once again, the DocuSign employees did amazing work and I think everyone had a good time. Rumor has it that they may come back again in April. I sure hope that is the case!

I offer my heartfelt thanks to everyone who participated in our planting day and to everyone who helped prepare for it. Each person made a significant and important contribution to returning this stretch of Seattle’s Greenbelt to a healthy forest.

Greenbelt Restoration Work Party: November 10, 2018

The November 10th work party was one of our biggest. Six team leaders, four of which were Green Friends members, four neighbors, and 29 students from the UW Introduction to Environmental Science class participated.

During the first part of the work party, we split the group in half and ran two bucket brigades at the same time. One spanned the distance from the wood chip piles located at the bottom of the Hanford Stairs and the Greenbelt. We had used wood chips from those piles at the previous work party, so the piles looked small. I had expected that we would finish moving those chips and need to move to piles at a different location but that wasn’t the case. Even now more wood chips are available there. The second bucket brigade started at the top of the Hanford Stairs. In that location there were two piles of wood chips that had been delivered the previous week.

These bucket brigades had two purposes. 1) We would create new piles of wood chips throughout the restoration site. The chips in those piles will be used during our November 15 planting work party, during which time two buckets of wood chips will be placed around each tree, shrub and ground cover that is put into the ground. In this instance, the wood chips serve as mulch, reducing weed growth and holding in moisture. 2) We would finish covering most of the paths that snake through the site.with three inches of wood chips. Our hope is that having a thick layer of wood chips on top of the paths will prevent them from getting muddy and slippery during the winter rains.

(Click on any of the galleries to enlarge the photos.)

During the second part of the work party, we formed four teams. These teams focused on getting areas ready for the upcoming planting event. One team moved dried branches and blackberry canes out of a new planting area. That group also spread dirt in an area where a compost pile had been taken apart during previous work parties.

The second team cleared the ground around two sides of a red twig dogwood patch.

The third team pulled out blackberry root balls and raked out a section of land north of the Hanford Stairs.

One of our neighbor volunteers cut down blackberry canes and dug out blackberry root balls and weeds from an area just across the stairs from the third team.

We make a plant order in May of each year. The Seattle Parks Department provides us with the plants towards the end of October or the beginning of November. This year we had ordered 250 plants of 23 varieties.

Prior to this work party, the shrubs and ground covers had been separated into ten groups, each number assigned to the planting area where the plants will be placed in the ground. The trees were grouped separately.

The fourth team carried those trees, shrubs and ground covers to the areas where they will be planted.

After the work party was over, three of the team leaders walked around the site placing every plant in the spot where it will be planted.

Thanks to the effort of these students, neighbors and team leaders, we are now ready to plant. I am so excited to see what the land will look like once the trees, shrubs and ground covers are settled into their new homes!

Greenbelt Restoration Site: We Are Almost Ready!

We’ve been preparing for our first 2018-19 season planting day for months. We’ve done that by 1) putting a three inch layer of wood chips on the paths that run throughout the site, 2)clearing new planting areas, and 3) weeding the existing planting areas.

In mid October, I started making “plant signs” by writing the name of each plant we had ordered from the Seattle Parks Department on a Popsicle stick. The “signs” would be put into each of the pots once we received the plants. After each tree, shrub or ground cover has been planted, the volunteer who does the planting will push the sign into the ground next to the plant.

Each year, flagging tape is used to tag the plants so we know what year each of them was planted. Blue and white checkered tape was used throughout the 2017-18 planting season. During the 2018-19 season, the tape will be red with black polka dots. This year’s flagging tape was chosen by a group of children!

The normal practice is to tag each plant after it is planted. This year, we are going to put the tape on the plants before the planting day. That will ensure that each plant is tagged and will allow the us to tag the plants in a more leisurely manner.

Small plants are often not able to be tagged in the same way as the larger ones, since they may have fragile or tiny stems. In the past, we have picked up a dried branch from the ground and put the flagging tape on one end and then pushed the branch into the ground near the newly planted plant. This year, I decided to prepare the flagging sticks ahead of time too. It occurred to me this was also a way to put the small but sturdy branches that are in our debris piles to good use.

I gathered several branches from the site and brought them into my house where I could prepare the sticks in comfort. From these few branches, I was able to make 65 flagging sticks! I needed to make more, but this was a good start. (Click on any of the galleries to enlarge the photos.)

A fellow student in my Tai Chi class gave our restoration site three cedar trees he had raised. Those were the first trees I tagged.

Our plants arrived on October 30. When they were delivered, they had no labels and were not sorted.

It was a lot easier for me to sort the plants this year than last, since I was more familiar with the plants. I sent photos of the varieties that I wasn’t sure about to Jayanand, a plant ecologist friend who lives in Pt. Angeles. Soon, all of the plants were sorted and ready to be tagged.

After our October 21st work party, Sarva, Anavadya and I picked out locations for the 33 trees we will be planting. Sarva and I also met on November 4th to decide where most of the shrubs and ground covers will go.

The other thing that happened on November 4th was that Kavita performed a puja asking Mother Nature for her blessing, to protect and help the new plants to grow.

We already have 37 volunteers registered for our November 10th work party. On that day, we will finish preparing the site for planting. After that work party, Sarva and I will put the plants on the spots where they are to be planted; and on the 12th or 13th, Anavadya and I will distribute the 95 plants that don’t have a designated space yet.

Then, on November 15th, most or all of the trees, shrubs and ground covers will be planted by DocuSign employees, a corporate group. This is such an exciting time of the year.

Green Seattle Day: November 3, 2018

Each year, the Green Seattle Partnership sponsors a Green Seattle Day. On that day, work parties are held in parklands all over Seattle. Sarva and I decided to volunteer as team leaders at Cheasty Mt. View Park. Several other GreenFriends members and their friends joined us.

The number of people who registered for the work party amazed me. There were seven in our GreenFriends contingent, but 126 volunteers in the whole group.

One of the leaders encouraged the participants to plant from a place of gratitude. She suggested that the volunteers name their trees … and that they talk to the trees as they put them into the earth. As I wandered through our section, helping people with the planting, I heard many participants doing that.

After some of our GreenFriends group planted this tree, they decided to give it a kiss.

The 126 volunteers planted 800 trees, shrubs and ground covers during the first hour of the work party.

We spent the rest of the work party removing invasive blackberry and ivy vines. Again, it was phenomenal to witness how much can be accomplished in a short period of time.

We put vines we cut onto drying racks so that they don’t touch the ground and re-root. There were several drying racks in the area where we were working but they were soon full. Before long there were big piles of cuttings around the site.

Some of the volunteers built a new drying rack and then we moved the piles of cuttings to the new rack.

Before long, the three-hour work party was over and we prepared to leave.

What a wonderful morning it had been. The work party was such a good example of the adage “Many hands make light work.”

An Unexpected Visitor

The plant order for our Greenbelt restoration site arrived today. As I was sorting them out, a shiny object caught my eye. When I looked closer, I discovered that it was the shell of a snail.

The snail was moving along the top of a pot. By the time I grabbed my iPhone camera, it looked to me like it was planning to go down the side of the pot.

I was wrong. That was not what the snail had in mind.

I loved watching the snail’s amazing journey. However, I didn’t want it eating the new Greenbelt plants, so I carried it to a place where it could munch on something else.

Greenbelt Restoration Work Party: October 21, 2018

Twenty six volunteers participated in the October 21 work party. Twenty of them came from the UW Introduction to Environmental Science class, five were GreenFriends members who served as staff and one was a neighbor.

The first part of this work party focused on bringing wood chips from the street into the Greenbelt. Most of them were placed on the pathways we are making throughout the site. After finishing the paths we were working on that day, we created two piles of wood chips that will be used on November 15 when a corporate group comes to do the first planting for this season. (Note: Planting starts in November after the rains begin and continues through mid-March. Planting during these months gives the plants a chance to root before the dry summer months.)

During the second part of the work party, we focused on cutting up dried blackberry debris and spreading it on the paths we will be making next; clearing wood chips from around the plants that were planted last season, weeding and clearing a new planting space.

Wood chip bucket brigade

Filling the buckets (Click on any of the galleries to enlarge the photos.)

 

Carrying the filled buckets into the Greenbelt

 

The new paths and piles (Hold cursor over photos below to see the captions)

 

Cutting Up Debris

I was surprised to see that I forgot to take photos of the group who cut up dried blackberry vines, ivy  and branches, but I do have pictures of one of the paths-to-be we spread them on. We will more than likely cover this debris with wood chips during the next work party. (Note: We primarily use the debris in this way so we can eliminate the piles of debris that are scattered throughout the site. Over time, the debris will break down and enrich the soil.)

Cleaning Out the Donut Holes

When we plant a tree, shrub or ground cover, we pour a ring of wood chips around it, leaving the center clear. The outer ring looks like a donut and we refer to the center area as the donut hole. We try to keep the donut hole, the area closest to the plant, free of wood chips and weeds so the plant can get the full value of any rain that falls. One group of volunteers at this work party cleared the donut holes in almost every planting area on the site.

Today, when I walked outside to take photos of some of those areas, I found that a lot of leaves had fallen, so the donut holes didn’t look as empty as they did at the end of the work party.

 

Weeding

Two groups of students weeded four planting areas on the property. The first two pictures show volunteers working in an area that has wild ginger. After each planting area was weeded,  students cleared the wood chips from the donut holes. One group then used more wood chips to form new rings around the plants, keeping the center area clear. (Note: When wood chips are inside a planting areas, they serve as mulch.)

 

Clearing a new planting area

My neighbor, who is in the background of the first photo below, has become skilled in removing blackberry vines and root balls with a pick ax. During this work party, he cleared a new area; you can see it in the second photo. Two trees will be planted in that space on November 15.

 

This was the biggest work party we’ve had in a long time. The next one will be held on November 10. There are already 31 students registered for that event and we still have two weeks to go!

Many thanks to everyone who participated in the September 21 work party. You each made a significant contribution to the goal of turning this Greenbelt site back into a healthy forest.