Greenbelt Restoration Work Parties: February 26 and March 4, 2020

When we held the February 26 and March 4 work parties none of us knew that they would be the last work parties of the quarter. The remaining ones would be canceled due to the pandemic.

February 26

When I went outside to make last minute preparations for the work party, I got a big surprise. A big tree had fallen not far from our toolbox. I hadn’t been to that part of the site for several days, so I didn’t know when it fell but guessed it was during or soon after the big wind and rain storm that had occurred the previous weekend.

The tree had fallen from the top path, over the old house foundation that is on the property, and partially over the planting area that is below the foundation. I hadn’t realized how big the tree was until it fell; it must have been at least 80 feet tall. The photos in this post are primarily from the tree’s bottom and top so in no way do they show its magnitude. 

(To enlarge the photos click on any of the galleries.)

The side-lying rootball is about 8 feet long and 12 feet high! 

The tree fell between two drying racks. It touched both of the racks but didn’t damage either of them. Even though it had fallen over numerous planting areas, none of our native plants were significantly harmed; in fact only one branch on a bald hip rose shrub and one on a pacific ninebark shrub was damaged. Once again, against incredible odds, Mother Nature had protected the plants.

The tree had fallen from the top path, over the old house foundation that is on the property, and partially over the planting area that is below the foundation. We hadn’t realized how big the tree was until it fell; it must have been at least 80 feet tall. The photos in this post are primarily from the tree’s bottom and top so in no way do they show its full magnitude. 

Soon after I discovered the fallen tree, I called my supervisor at the Seattle Parks Department to inform him that the tree had fallen. He told me it would probably be left on the ground to provide habitat for birds and insects. 

So, after all of us spent some time looking at the exposed tree roots, we began the planned activities for the day. Most of the students started removing weeds, wood chips and leaves from around all of the trees, shrubs and ground covers we had planted on the site since 2017. Having bare ground around each plant helps water reach the plant roots when it rains. The UW Capstone interns were team leaders for the UW service-learning students during this work party.

An intern found some snail or slug eggs as she was working.

A student that loves to dig out invasive blue bell bulbs did that instead of clearing the areas around the plants. The photo of her shovel shows how wet the soil was that day.

While all of this activity was occurring, Antje, one of our regular team leaders, cut back bamboo shoots.

Later, one of the student teams removed some of the smaller fallen tree branches that were near the native plants.

A picture containing outdoor, grass, person, tree

Description automatically generated

While those students removed branches, the other team finished clearing the areas around the plants on the site and then picked up litter. Sorry, no photos of that work!

March 4

During what turned out to be our last work party, the interns took the service-learning students back to the area along Cheasty Boulevard that they had started to clear several weeks before. Weeds were already growing through the wood chip mulch they had spread at that time. On March 4th, they dug out those weeds and cleared more of the area, and then spread more wood chips over all of the cleared area. I don’t have photos of the work but I do have photos of the results!

The fallen tree covered all but one of our Greenbelt paths. While the students worked, Antje identified and marked new ways to get around the lower part of the site without walking through the planted areas.

I feel so grateful to all of the students who chose to work on our site for their service-learning or internship this quarter. I also feel grateful for those who have worked here in the past or will work here in the future. Every volunteer leaves having made a significant contribution in creating “Another Future Healthy Forest”.

Greenbelt Restoration Work Parties: February 7- 21, 2020

This quarter, we have two UW Capstone interns and three UW service-learning students working on the site. All five of the students work for 2 1/2 hours on Wednesday afternoons and the interns come back most Fridays.

There were five work parties between the 7th and 21st of February. I attended all of the work parties; Antje, who has been helping on the site for more than a year was at two of them; and Shirley, who is one of our long term team leaders, participated in one.

February 7

The interns are responsible for clearing one section of the site. They had worked on “their” section on January 17th and 29th. On February 7th, they put wood chip mulch on areas that they had cleared the previous week… because there had been so much rain that the ground had become muddy. They also removed more invasive vines and weeds and put a wood chip ring around a mock orange shrub we had planted in March of 2019.

February 12

Only one intern and one service-learning student attended the February 12th work party. They spent most of the session scouring the site looking at the flagging tape that had been put on when we planted trees, shrubs and ground covers between November 2017 and March 2019.

The color and design of the tape allows us to know when the plant was planted. As the plant grows, the flagging tape may get too tight and need to be loosened; or cut off and replaced. The shrub in the photo below was one where the tape was so tight that they had to cut it off and put on looser tape. This shrub was planted in November 2017.

While they were doing that, Antje and I were weeding.

Towards the end of the work party, the intern noticed that someone had dumped trash down the Hanford stairs and on one of our planting areas . We spent the last part of the work party picking up the trash.

February 14

As is usually the case, the Capstone interns came to work on their section of the site on Friday. This week was different in that a service-learning student came to do a makeup session.

The interns started clearing the area on the western side of their section. They also pruned some shrubs that had been planted sometime before we started working here in 2016.

Later in the work party, they planted two snowberry shrubs. It may be difficult to see the shrubs in the photos below because they were still in winter twig form.

While the interns were working in their section, the service learning student, Antje and I “cleaned up” the drying racks where we place the invasive vines and weeds we have removed. We did this clean-up by removing big branches from the pile, cutting long branches into smaller pieces and making sure none of the invasive vines were touching the ground. Making these changes allows the debris to compost faster and not re-root.

At one point, the service-learning student noticed a hole in the ground not far from the drying rack where she was working. When she looked into the hole, she found item after item of trash that had been thrown into the Greenbelt and over decades had been covered by soil. The most remarkable litter she found was a BIG teddy bear.

After she had removed the trash, and filled the hole, she returned to working on the racks. Towards the end of the work party Antje and she replaced flagging tape on plants that had been tagged incorrectly. (We had run out of this year’s flagging tape and had to use something else to mark some of the plants when we did the November 2019 planting.)

February 19

One of the interns had wanted to experience leading teams during the quarter. She had been assigned a team several times but since there weren’t many students this quarter her “team” at times consisted of only one other person.

On February 19, all of the student-learners and interns were present so she had the opportunity to be team leader for all of the students. They cleared an area along Cheasty Blvd. After the land was cleared, they covered it with wood chip mulch to help retard weed growth and reduce erosion.

Shirley, one of our regular team leaders, and I watched over the process giving guidance as necessary. Shirley also put wood chips on some of the areas we had cleared in a previous work party

I didn’t take photos during February 19th work party, but I took some the next day. The first two photos below show uncleared areas that border the section the students worked on that day. If I had taken “before” photos, they would have looked very much like these. Ivy, buttercup, grasses and blackberry vines were the most common invasive plants.

And this is what that section looked like at the end of the work party.

We spent the last part of the session doing a task that was less strenuous, clearing leaves and wood chips from around previously planted trees, shrubs and ground covers in two of the planting areas on the north west part of the site.

February 21

There was another interns work party on February 21. On that day, they continued clearing the western part of their section, snapped off suckers coming from a large tree, put wood chip rings around the snowberry shrubs they had planted the previous week … as well as around a rhododendron shrub we had planted in March of 2019… and spread wood chips on cleared areas that were muddy.

The shrubs in this section will be able to thrive now that they are free of the invasive vines.

I am always amazed by what a small group of enthusiastic volunteers can accomplish during a 2 1/2 hour work party. By the end of each session, there is always a tangible difference in the site.

Freedom to Thrive

I love to watch how plants return to their glory when they are freed from invasive blackberry vines. Our site is has so many sword ferns; very few of them were planted by us. Most were barely visible when we first removed the blackberry vines.

This fern was freed on March 11 of last year. The photos below show what has happened since that time.

Greenbelt Restoration Work Parties: January 22 – February 5, 2020

There were three Wednesday work parties during this time period. UW Carlson Center Service-Learning students and UW Capstone interns participated in each event. Antje and I were team leaders at all three of the work parties. Haley, one of our long term team leaders joined us during the January 29th work party.

January 22

Three Service-Learning students and one Capstone intern participated in the January 22nd work party. The students did a variety of jobs. Two of them disassembled one of the drying racks and moved the dried blackberry, ivy and periwinkle vines as well as other dried weeds to another part of the site where they will continue to decompose.

This past fall, the 5 cu ft pile of wood chips that was in the part of our site that borders 25th Ave S was taken. Earlier in the year, we had a problem with yard waste being dumped in the same area. Since most of the yard waste was sorted by size, bundled and banded, we suspected it was being dumped by a company rather than individuals These were irritating annoyances and we pondered ways to prevent them from happening again.

In the past, we have moved wood chips from that place into smaller piles in the main site to make them more accessible to volunteers. Would moving them there make it less likely that the wood chips would be taken? Since our main site is very sloped, it certainly would make it a lot harder for outsiders to remove them.

The Seattle Park Department delivered 8 cu ft of wood chips the week before our January 20 MLK National Day of Service work party. During that event, the volunteers had formed a bucket brigade and moved most of the wood chip pile from the 25th Ave S area into the main site.

One of our team leaders had suggested we use the remaining wood chips in the 25th Ave S area to build a barrier along the front border of that area. The barrier wouldn’t be high enough to prevent people from taking wood chips or discarding yard waste but maybe it would be a deterrent.

At the beginning of the January 22 work party, two students and one staff member started building the barrier. Once the other students finished taking down the drying rack, they also worked on the barrier. Together, they did a great job of creating the new structure.

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

So many of the things we do in this work are experimental. That is definitely true of this barrier.

At this point, there are more questions than answers. Will it deter people from taking the wood chips when another pile is delivered? Will it discourage companies and individuals from dumping their yard waste in the Greenbelt? Will we have to take part of the barrier down in order to get a new wood chip pile or will the delivery truck be able to dump them over the barrier? Only time will tell.

Once we finished building the barrier, we weeded in three different areas of the site. I was weeding too so have no photos of that part of the work party but here are some of the results!

January 29

Three Service-Learning students and one Capstone intern participated in this work party.

It had rained a lot since January 22. One of the areas we had started to weed at that work party looked like this a day or two later.

It was clear we needed to cover the area with wood chips when we weeded there to make it less muddy and to prevent erosion.

As I mentioned earlier, Haley was one of our team leaders on January 29. She led a team of two students in this area. Her husband also joined that group partway through the work party. The group continued the weeding that had been started the previous week, and then covered the cleared land with wood chips.

Here is an “after” photo! There are no more puddles of water anywhere in that area.

The other students and staff weeded additional areas we had begun weeding on January 22. These students also added a layer of wood chips to part of a path that had become muddy.

These are two “after” photos from one of the areas the second team weeded that day.

February 5

Two staff, two Capstone interns and three Service-Learning students participated in this work party.

Every work party during January the weather forecast had been for rain. We had lucked out in that the weather was always better than the forecast. There may have been light rain showers, but there was never heavy rain. Our luck ran out on the first Wednesday in February. That day, the rain poured throughout the 2 1/2 hour work party.

We spent most of our time working on our newest planting area which is in the southeast corner of the site. I don’t remember when we started to clear that area but when we worked on it towards the beginning of August 2019, it had looked like this:

By November 2019, a large part of the area had been cleared and was ready for planting.

It seemed like a good place for the whole group to work on February 5. Because of all the rain, the ground was muddy and, in some places, slippery. The first thing we did was to build a wood chip path from the beginning of the area to the new hemlock tree at the far end. We also put a new layer of wood chips on the path leading to that planting area.

We then weeded that section of the site and in nearby areas.

After weeding in the rain for most of the work party, we switched to putting wood chips on pre-existing paths that were getting muddy.

This is one of the paths we “renewed” that day:

One of the students created two novel ways of filling the buckets with wood chips during the January 22 – February 5 time frame. 1) Stand behind the pile and push the chips into a bucket with her hands and 2) Sit in the remainder of the pile and push chips into the buckets with her feet. She got dirty but her methods were effective and she enjoyed doing it!

These three work parties were fun and very productive. It looks like there is the possibility of sun for the Wednesday February 12 work party! I sure hope that forecast is right.

(The February 7, 9, 12 and 14 work parties will be reported in a future post.)

Greenbelt Restoration Work Parties: January 15 to January 20, 2020

During Winter Quarter, January-March 2020, we have two groups of University of Washington students working with us in the Greenbelt. The first group, three Carlson Center Service-Learning students who are taking an Introduction to Community, Environment and Planning course, come on Wednesdays from 1:30-4:00. The second group consists of Capstone interns who are seniors majoring in Environmental Studies. They join the Service-Learning students at the Wednesday work parties and also work in the site on most Friday afternoons.

The first work party of Winter Quarter was held on January 15. In the days leading up to it, it became clear that weather was a potential problem. The Seattle Parks Department notified us that we were to cancel work parties if the temperature was below 32 degrees, if there was more than two inches of snow on the ground, or if more than half an inch of ground was frozen. We already had a policy of cancelling work parties if there are high winds. The chances of any or all of those criteria occurring was likely.

By the morning of the event, there was 1/2 – 1 inch of snow on the ground and the possibility of winds. We had expected 20-degree temperatures, but it had warmed up considerably. We decided to take it minute by minute. We would do a longer than normal orientation in my house and, if weather permitted, would take a tour of the site and do some restoration work afterwards.

Sarva and I led the orientation and the tour of the site. There wasn’t much time left afterwards and it was so cold that we decided not to start the restoration work that day. Still, we were off to a good start!

UW Capstone interns and Service-Learning students

We gave the Capstone students responsibility for restoring a small section of the site and creating a planting plan for that area. The Capstone instructor also requires them to create a “deliverable” for the organization that is hosting them. Our students plan to create pamphlets about forest restoration that will be useful for future volunteers.

On Friday, January 17, the Capstone interns worked on their section of the site for the first time. They took down a drying rack where invasive plants like blackberry and ivy vines had been drying out for a year and moved the contents to a part of the site where dried debris is breaking down further. We will eventually plant in that composted debris.

After finishing moving the dried debris from the rack, the interns started digging out blackberry root balls and ivy from their section. I taught them what they needed to know to do those two jobs and then picked up trash from the site and the adjacent stairs, checking in with the students from time to time.

A picture containing outdoor, person, grass, tool

Description automatically generated

In future sessions, as the interns finish removing invasive plants from their section of the site, they will spread wood chips over the newly cleared area to prevent soil erosion.

On January 20, we held our second annual Martin Luther King National Day of Service work party. Our team leaders were Maya, who is Forterra’s Green Cities Stewardship Coordinator, Shirley and me from GreenFriends, and Dave who is one of our regular team leaders.

Most of the volunteers were alumni from Western Washington University’s Huxley School of the Environment and their families. They were celebrating Huxley’s 50th anniversary. Others included our two UW Capstone interns, a family from the neighborhood where our site is located, a man who had signed up for event information on our GreenFriends information list during Amma’s last Seattle area visit, and several people who found us on Green Seattle Partnership’s event page.

After an orientation, we divided into four teams and started to work! Shirley and the neighborhood family picked up branches that had fallen on pathways during the last few months, weeded planting areas in the north part of the site and loosened up or replaced flagging tape on shrubs that had grown so much that it had become tight. (We use flagging tape of various colors to show what year a tree, shrub or ground cover was planted.)

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

Maya’s group pruned a strip of shrubs and removed invasive blackberry and ivy vines along 25th Ave S. The shrubs had been planted years before we started our restoration project. They had grown big enough that in places they had become a thicket.

Dave’s team worked in one of the few areas on the site where we hadn’t done much clearing in the past. It contained many forms of invasive shrubs and vines, primarily blackberry vines. Before the work party, I saw one blackberry vine that was at least 20 feet long.

At the beginning of the work session, several members of the group moved the contents of an old drying rack so that they would have a place to put their cuttings.

My team removed the dried vines and weeds from one of the drying racks; looked for tagging tape that had gotten too tight and loosened or replaced it; and weeded several southern planting areas.

After a snack break, all of the groups joined together to move wood chips from a pile on 25th Ave. S into smaller piles on our site. (Moving the wood chips onsite makes them much more accessible to members of future work parties.) We accomplished that task by forming a bucket brigade.

Maya took two time-lapse videos of the bucket brigade. I hope you enjoy watching them as much as I did. https://photos.app.goo.gl/W77onh6wwyBfWVN86 (Hover the cursor over the video to make it work. To make either of the videos fill the full page, click on the arrow.)

The three work parties between January 15 and January 20 were very different from each other, but each was productive and gave the participants a significant forest restoration experience.

Every volunteer who comes here contributes substantially to creating another healthy forest in Seattle.