“Oh No”s

I’ve had a lot of “Oh No” experiences lately; ones that relate to the new Greenbelt site we’ve agreed to help with. Our main site is south of the stairs that begin at the intersection of 25th Avenue S and S Hanford Street in Seattle. About three years ago, the Department of Transportation built a second set of Hanford Stairs across Cheasty Boulevard. They are lower on the side of Beacon Hill than our main site. There is Greenbelt property on both sides of the lower stairs.

When those stairs were built, the Department of Transportation planted native shrubs on both sides of the stairs and then covered the area with wood chips. It was beautiful. However, no one maintained the property and over time the land, including the new plants, became covered with bindweed vines. There were some blackberry vines too, but in that area the bindweed ruled. In fact, the bindweed completely covered most of the shrubs. Sometimes, there was no way to know there was even a shrub there; they just looked like mounds of bindweed.

Below are some photos of bindweed vines I took on our site two years ago. They show how bindweed strangles shrubs and ground covers.

One day in April, a Green Seattle Partnership staff member asked us to remove the bindweed from that area, if possible, meaning if we had time. We worked on it for the first time, on April 29. The photos below show what it looked like at that time. Seeing it when preparing for the work party was probably my first “Oh No” experience in this series. We removed bucket after bucket of bindweed that afternoon.

Our main site has a lot of bindweed, but it looks small in comparison to what is in this area. I’ve read that bindweed can go 32 feet into the earth. It is very fragile so breaks off easily so I had had no illusion that we could completely get rid of it. But we had at least started the process of reducing it.

When I checked the site three weeks later, I could barely tell we had worked there before. “Oh No.” We cleared bindweed from that area again on May 20. Afterwards, we covered the area where we had “removed” the bindweed with wood chips. Even though we weren’t able to clear the whole area, the part we had “finished” looked beautiful.

On June 27, I went back to the site to take a look. The first thing I noticed was how much bindweed had returned. “Oh No.” The second thing I noticed was that two thirds of the way down the stairs someone had dumped a couch, chairs and other garbage. “Oh No.” How had the dumpers even gotten this stuff down there?

Seattle has a Find It, Fix It app that residents can use to report problems that they want the city workers to fix. I reported the dump. As I was filling out the report on my phone, I noticed that there was new graffiti on the area where I was standing. “Oh No.” Once I completed the illegal dump report, I filed a graffiti report.

On July 1, I walked down the stairs to take some photos of the bindweed. I felt discouraged to see that the shrub near the phone pole was completely covered again. In fact, bindweed was coming up everywhere. “Oh No.” I was, however, pleased to see that the furniture and other items that had been dumped were already gone. That was fast!

On July 3, I walked down the stairs on my way to pick up my car from an auto repair shop. I noticed that the bindweed had continued to grow in the last few days. I also took a closer look at areas we hadn’t cleared yet. “Oh No.” When I saw my photo I was sorry to see that my finger had gotten in the way and showed up in the photo. “Oh No.” Luckily the picture still showed what I wanted it to show.

Then, I saw that more items had been dumped not far from the bottom of the stairs . “Oh No”. I couldn’t even tell what the stuff was. I could only see that they were big. This time the dump was in an area we hadn’t worked on before; one that is filled with blackberry vines as well as bindweed. Once again, I reported the dump through the Find It, Fix It app.

In writing this post, I can see from the photos that even though there is still lots of bindweed coming up in the areas we have cleared before, there is far less of it than when we started on April 29. And we kept it from flowering. The flowers would have caused it to spread even more. We are making a difference, one step at a time.

Bindweed flower from Pixabay.com

Our plans are for the 30 people who have registered for the July 7 work party to work in that area for the last part of the event. In the past, we have only worked there with five or six people. I look forward to discovering how much we accomplish at that time.

Greenbelt Restoration Work Party: February 24, 2019

On a chilly but snow-free February morning, eleven volunteers gathered to work in our Greenbelt forest restoration site. Kelly, Antje and I served as team leaders. In addition, a neighbor, two students from Seattle University’s Environmental Perspectives class and five volunteers who had found us on the Green Seattle Partnership’s Event Page participated.

This was the first time we held a work party where the restoration work was exclusively in the Greenbelt site that is north of the Hanford Stairs. (Our main site is south of the stairs.)

After the initial orientation, we divided into three teams.

Teams One and Two

We have been having a problem with people dumping yard waste and trash into a section of the Greenbelt that we had begun to clear last fall. I wondered if we planted trees, shrubs and ground covers in that area if the dumping would stop.

Planting in that section would be no easy matter. Take a look at what the land looked like at the beginning of this work party.

(To get a better sense of the enormity of the task, click on the gallery)

Getting this land ready for planting will take many work parties. We decided to start in a section where the blackberry vines had been cut down but the root balls hadn’t been dug out (see the photo below).

Before

Our plan for this work party was to clear a small strip of land on the edge of the place where the Greenbelt becomes a steep slope. Once it was cleared, we would create a barrier along that strip. The barrier might be helpful in reducing dumping. Even if it wasn’t, it would make people more aware of the slope on the other side of it. [Note: barrier is probably the wrong word since the structure will only be 3-4 feet high, but I can’t think of a better one. Border is a possibility but that doesn’t seem right either.]

The barrier would be built from dried branches as well as materials that might slow down weed growth. All of the materials we will use to create it will decompose over time and enrich the soil. Once the barrier is built, we will plant the trees, shrubs and ground covers on the flat land that is east of it.

As the team began to work, they discovered that there were many layers of ivy and periwinkle vines both on top of the ground and under it. There was also a small holly plant.

The team worked diligently

While the first team was clearing the land in the strip, the second team did tasks that supported the first and third teams. For example, they filled buckets with wood chips and then took the buckets to the areas where the wood chips would be spread over cleared ground.

Once the buckets were empty, team two volunteers refilled them. They also filled several buckets with branches that would become part of the barrier. After some time, the second team joined the first team in clearing the strip.

These groups cleared a significant amount of land. This is what the strip looked like once the blackberry root balls, ivy and periwinkle vines had been removed.

After

During part of the clearing time, one of the volunteers cut cedar leaves off cedar branches that had been dumped in the Greenbelt. Sometimes the leaves were left on the thinner branches. Those leaves became the first layer of the barrier.

Next the team covered the cedar leaves with two layers of burlap bags.

Then a layer of wood chips was spread. The work party was almost over so we put a layer of branches on top of the wood chips. If there had been more time, we probably would have added a thicker layer of wood chips.

There will be many more layers in the barrier and in time the strip will be at least three times as long as it is now. I don’t know exactly what it will look like when we finish it. This project is definitely an experiment.

The first photo below shows the entire strip the team created that day and the second photo will give you a glimpse of the challenges we will face when we extend it.

Team 3

The third team started their day clearing an area near the Hanford stairs; an area that also had invasive blackberry, ivy and periwinkle vines.

As soon as a section was cleared, the volunteers covered the ground with wood chips. Here the wood chips serve primarily as mulch. I was excited to see the changes that were occurring before my eyes. When they finished the area along the stairs looked like this:

After
After

After a snack break, team three decided to clear invasive ivy, blackberry and periwinkle vines… and occasionally trash… in a part of the Greenbelt that was a bit further away from the stairs. One member of group two and I joined them.

I didn’t take before and after photos where this group worked except for the “after” photo below. It shows a section that is full of Dwarf Oregon Grape plants. The space between the plants used to be filled with ivy.

I give thanks to all of the volunteers who helped during this work party and during the work parties that proceeded it. It is due to the volunteers that this land is once again becoming a healthy forest.

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I always enjoy writing these posts. Whenever I do that, I get to re-live the magic that occurs during each work party.

If you would like to participate in this restoration work, write me at hanfordstairsgreenbelt@gmail.com or you can find information about and/or sign up for our March 10 work party at: https://seattle.greencitypartnerships.org/event/15840/.