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.

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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.

Greenbelt Restoration Project: Service-Learning Sessions 5 & 6

Session 5

The primary task for the 5th service-learning session was to clear away the leaves, wood chips and weeds from all of the spots where new native trees, shrubs and ground covers would be planted on November 13th. Prior to the work party, Shirley and I had placed a green or pink flag at each of those locations.

Two staff members from Carlson Center, the University of Washington program that coordinates the University’s service-learning programs, came to our site that day. They wanted to talk with Shirley and me about how the students were helping to meet Green Seattle Partnership’s goals, to see our site, and to watch and talk with the students. They stayed with us for about an hour. I enjoyed their visit.

After a break, the students continued to clear the areas where native trees, shrubs and ground covers would be planted the following week.

Session 6

The 6th service-learning session took place on November 12, the afternoon before DocuSign, a corporate group, would be coming to plant everything. In-between the 5th and 6th sessions, the plants had been distributed to the locations where they would soon be planted.

Every year, each new plant is marked with a soft flagging tape. The tape may be attached to the plant itself or may be on a nearby stake. The tape is different for each planting season. Blue and white checkered tape was used for the Nov 2017 to March 2018 planting season and red with black polka dots for 2018-19. This season the tape is a light blue. You can see it on many of the plants in the photos above.

[The same tape is used in all Seattle Parks, so if you know the colors that were used for each season, you can go to any park and know what season a particular plant was planted.]

The flagging tape had been placed on all of the larger plants prior to the 6th session. When the plant is small, though, there may not be a branch that is strong enough for tagging. In those cases, we put the flagging tape on a stake and then put the stakes in the ground near the plants when they are planted. (The photo to the left shows one of the stakes.)

During the first part of the 6th service-learning session, three of the students made 100 of these stakes. While they did that, one of our staff members raked some of the paths on the site and another student put the stakes in or near the pots that contained small plants.

After a break, the four students who attended that day divided into two groups. Each pair planted a hemlock tree. Once the tree was planted, they put a ring of wood chips around it. The wood chips help retain moisture and reduce weed growth.

After planting the trees, the students hunted for areas where flags had been placed since the previous session and cleared the ground around those flags.

By the time this service-learning session was over, the land was ready for the next day’s planting work party!

Greenbelt Restoration Project: Service-Learning Sessions 1-3 (Autumn 2019)

This quarter, we have students from the University of Washington’s Service-Learning program (Carlson Center) helping on our site. The Carlson Center’s service opportunities are tied to academic courses. Two of the students are from an introductory level course in the College of the Environment and four are from an English composition course that is focusing on social issues.

The service-learning students will work in our forest restoration site every week for seven weeks. Each session will last three hours.

Session 1: October 8

Our forest restoration project gives everyone who participates the opportunity to practice flexibility, especially the leaders. That was certainly true of the day the students came to our site for their first session.

In the week that led up to the first session, the weather forecast changed many times; in fact, sometimes it changed several times a day. (We can work in the rain, but we have to cancel if it is windy since many of the trees on the site are old and it is not unusual for branches to fall during wind storms. And we didn’t like the idea of the students’ first experience being in heavy rain.) Often the weather during our work parties is better than the forecast, so we hoped Mother Nature would support us in that way again.

On the day of the event, the weather changed even more often. An hour or two before the work party there was some lightning. (We wouldn’t work in lightning either.) As I was doing the final setup for the work party, the rain was pouring.

Shirley, who co-leads these sessions with me, and I had decided to hold the orientation in my house and to make it much more comprehensive than normal. When the students arrived, it was still raining, but the rain wasn’t as heavy as it had been earlier. After the orientation, Shirley and I took them on a tour of the site. By then, the rain had changed to a light shower. And, by the time we were ready to do the restoration work, the sun was shining!

We had reviewed the plan for what work we would do during the first work party numerous times over the preceding week. As we took the tour of the site, we decided the five students and two leaders would break into two teams; we would cut back the blackberry vines that were shooting into the site from the blackberry barrier that goes along the southern border, separating our site from the neighbor’s land.

Click on any of the photo galleries below to enlarge the photos.

In the two photos above, you can see some of the many piles of blackberry vines that were removed during that first session. The cuttings were carried on tarps to drying racks in other parts of the site. In the photos below, you can see what two of the border areas looked like when we finished that day

Session 2: October 15

Six students attended the second service-learning session. Antje, one of our other team leaders, also participated. We worked together near the red twig dogwood area, an area that is very near wetlands. That land is full of horsetails, a native plant that is older than the dinosaurs. It also contained invasive bindwood, blackberry and ivy vines, as well as nightshade and other weeds. We removed the invasive vines and weeds, but left the horsetails alone.

You can see before and after pictures of the area the students worked in that day below. The invasive vines are gone and the native plants are more visible.

After a break, the students removed a big pile of dried cuttings from another area, and took them to a different part of the site where they will break down even further. We will be able to plant shrubs in the space where the large pile of debris the students moved that day once stood.

Session 3: October 22

During this session, five students and the three leaders tackled an area that had been worked on twice during summer work parties. There was still plenty of clearing that needed to be done.

Dried blackberry canes and branches covered the ground, as well as live ivy, blackberry vines and other invasive plants. Under the dried debris, we found layers and layers of ivy vines. They criss-crossed so much that they seemed woven. It is possible that these layers represented 50 years of ivy growth. The students carried many loads of invasive vines to drying racks that day.

This is what the space looked like at the end of the session. It is another area where native trees and shrubs will be planted in November.

This group has accomplished so much during their first three service-learning sessions. I am always amazed by how much the land transforms during each work party.

Service Learning Work Parties: April 22, 29 and May 6, 2019

We’ve had three more service-learning work parties since I wrote about the first two. Since the group is small, Shirley and I usually work alongside the students so I often forget about taking photos. Luckily, Shirley took a few during the April 22 work party and I remembered during the May 6 one.

April 22 was the first work party this year where it was wet and muddy. We spent most of the time digging out bindweed and blackberry vines in of the eastern planting areas and then moved on to weeding the north side of the Hanford Stairs.

On April 29, the students spent the first part of the work party building a ring of wood chips around some the plants. The wood chips act as mulch, reducing weed growth and keeping the soil near the plants moist during the summer. Once the rings (often referred to as a donut) are built, the donut hole is cleaned out. That way rain water will get to the plant easier.

During the second part of that work party, two of the students removed invasive plants along the north side of the stairs again and spread wood chips in areas that they cleared.

Shirley (team leader) and the other two students worked in an area near the second set of Hanford Stairs; across Cheasty Boulevard. It was the first time we have worked on that site, but it won’t be the last.

The Seattle Transportation Department had planted native plants in that area at the time they built the stairs. Since then, bindweed had taken over; most of those plants and the nearby land was covered with bindweed at the time of the work party.

After a break, all of us worked in that area. We freed a snowberry shrub, a bald hip rose shrub and two salal plants.

We dug up a lot of bindweed and other invasive vines, but there is plenty more to be done in that area.

On May 6, the students came for their fifth service-learning experience. This time they weeded four planting areas and put wood chip rings around 90 trees, shrubs and ground covers!

There are only two service-learning work parties left in this series. It has been fun to have the same students each week for seven weeks.

Next week we will be putting the wood chip rings around plants in three or four more planting areas, and during the last week we plan to go back to the bindweed area across Cheasty Boulevard.