In September 2016, when GreenFriends members started their forest restoration work in this Greenbelt site on Beacon Hill in Seattle, most of the land looked like the two photos below.
We have now planted trees, shrubs and ground covers in at least 20 areas on the site. The next four photos show the transformation that has occurred between the time two of those areas were planted and August 2019.
Many of the elderberry shrubs have become very big. We have one that is around 17 feet tall. The photo below is of the second biggest elderberry shrub.
Three of the Douglas Firs and several of the Alders are more than 5’ tall. The Cedars are smaller, but they are so beautiful.
If you click on the photo gallery you will see an enlarged view of the photos.
The transformation that has occurred on the site is remarkable and is thanks to Amma’s encouragement to serve Nature, the support of the Green Seattle Partnership staff, the effort of hundreds of volunteers, and the blessings of Mother Nature.
During our August 10 work party, two team leaders, seven students from the UW’s Introduction to Environmental Science class, a mother and daughter from our neighborhood and a volunteer who found us on Green Seattle Partnership Event Page participated. Three of the students had also attended our August 3 event. The August 10 work party was unusual in that most of the volunteers had previous restoration experience.
In the days preceding the event, the weather forecast changed several times a day, so we had no idea what to expect. When I started setting up that morning it was raining, but the rain had stopped by the time the work party began. And by the end of the work party, it was sunny. It has been quite hot lately but on this day the temperature was in the 60’s. Mother Nature had blessed us with a perfect work day.
I had ordered eight cubic yards of wood chips to be delivered sometime after August 12, so wanted to use up as many of the wood chips in the wood chip pile that is located on 25th Ave S as possible. During the August 10 work party, we would begin to make smaller piles of wood chips inside the Greenbelt. The wood chips in those small piles will be used when we do the fall planting. (When we plant trees, shrubs and ground covers, we place a four inch thick ring of wood chips around each new plant to help with weed reduction and water retention.) During the August 10 work party, we would also reinforce the upper path on our site by placing a new layer of wood chips over the existing path.
Since we didn’t have a big group of volunteers, we didn’t create the type of bucket brigade we had used on August 3. Instead, each volunteer carried many buckets of wood chips, two at a time, and dumped them in the appropriate places. I didn’t take any photos of this segment of the work party; I was too busy filling buckets. I did take some photos of the results of the work at the end of the event.
The first photo below shows what the pile looked like on July 7, the last time we had used wood chips from that pile. The second photo shows what the “pile” looked like after this segment of the August 10 work party. There are still wood chips in the pile, but even though the picture doesn’t show it clearly, the pile is nearly flat. The space is ready for the new delivery of wood chips!
We had made three smaller wood chip piles inside the Greenbelt and covered about 250 feet of path with new wood chips.
After a break, the group split into two teams. One team focused on removing the bindweed, and suckers that were shooting up from stumps of maple trees, in areas that border the Hanford Stairs. The maple trees had been cut down at some time in the past because they were under power lines.
Click on any of the photo galleries to see an enlarged version of the photos.
It was difficult to get before and after photos of the areas where the bindweed was removed because there is a dense cover of braken ferns and horsetails. I decided the best way to show the results of the work these students did was through a photo of the three bags of bindweed that they removed during this 45 minute work session! (To give you a sense of the size of the bags, know that they each one once held 40 pounds of pellets for a pellet stove heater.)
I did take before and after photos of the two places where the maple leaf suckers were removed.
The second team removed blackberry shoots and weeds from an area on the southeastern section of the site. They were even able to remove blackberry vines from under the big elderberry plants. Some of the elderberry plants are now 12-16 feet tall.
They also dug out a tire, a gas can and a pot. Here are photos of the gas can and the tire!
I saw the first berries on our elderberry plants during this work party. They were from a red elderberry. We have planted red, blue and black elderberry shrubs. I wonder if any of the others will fruit this year.
During the work session big blackberry vines and little ones were removed. This is a photo of one area before we started the work.
And the next set of photos show what some of the areas that this team worked on looked like at the end of the work party.
You can even see the ground under this elderberry plant!
I find myself using the word “amazing” a lot when I describe our work parties. That is an accurate description of this work party as well. I think it is amazing that twelve volunteers were able to accomplish so much during a three-hour work party.
I feel so grateful for all of the volunteers who participated in this work party as well as 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”.
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.
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.
I expected our May 4 work party would be the biggest event we would hold in May. It might even be our biggest work party of the spring. After all, it was one of the Rainier Chamber of Commerce’s Bridge to Beach cleanup weekend events. In addition, shortly before the event, we were notified that the work party would be advertised in the Green Seattle Partnership Facebook Page and on their blog.
We had a group of five team leaders, which included me, ready to lead the flood of volunteers who might decide to participate. A neighbor who has worked on this project from the beginning would also be coming. Much to my surprise, the time before and during the work party, ended up being an opportunity for me to practice trusting that the volunteers we’d need would be provided. All of the team leaders also had the opportunity to practice flexibility, persistence, letting go, accepting what is, doing whatever it takes, equanimity and Amma’s teaching that we should be like a bird perched on a dry twig, ready to fly at a moment’s notice.
For example, a week before the event only two volunteers had pre-registered. Around that time, I received a phone call from a man who had seen our event on the Bridge to Beach listing. He wanted me to know that he and his wife were going to attend our work party. But two days before the event, he called back to say they had found an event closer to their home, so they would not be coming to ours. On the same day they canceled, a young man from a University of Washington fraternity asked if he could bring a group from his fraternity. He believed he could bring 10 volunteers. I, of course, responded with an enthusiastic “Yes.” By then one of the two people who had pre-registered early on canceled.
On the day of the event, the team leaders were assembled and ready. The first person to arrive was a high school student who had worked with us before. She hadn’t pre-registered, but I was delighted to see her. The other person who had originally signed up didn’t show up, nor did any of the fraternity brothers who had pre-registered the day before.
The team leaders “rolled up their sleeves” and started the first task of the day: carrying wood chips from the wood chip pile on 25th Avenue South to the southern planting areas 300+ feet away. Once we reached the planting area, we poured the wood chips in a ring around each of the plants. We then removed chips that had fallen around the stem of the plants, creating an inner circle that was 6-12 inches in diameter. The chips were to help keep the ground moist during the summer months, and the open space was to allow any raindrops direct access to the ground.
Forty-five minutes into the work party, a welcome surprise arrived in the form of six members of the fraternity. I was excited to see them. I had the young men sign up and join the rest of our group in carrying the wood chips and building the rings.
Shortly after the students’ arrival, we broke into three small groups; each led by a team leader. One group removed the weeds in an area we had planted on March 17. We had cleared the invasive weeds from that area prior to the planting work party, but they were returning with a vengeance; the periwinkle vines were especially persistent.
A second group started to clear an area that hadn’t been cleared before, one that bordered our southern planting area. Dense blackberry vines and other weeds were impinging on, or had actually begun to cover, some of our shrubs and ground covers. The third group removed weeds from the north side of the Hanford Stairs.
At 11:30 we stopped for a snack break and a group photo.
After the break, the first and second group went back to work in their respective areas and the third group joined the second group. During this time, Shirley and I helped the other team leaders as needed and also took a few photos.
Clearing the area south of the southern planting area:
Clearing the area on the north side of the Hanford Stairs:
Neither Shirley nor I had taken any photos of the group that had cleared weeds in the planting area near the wood chip pile earlier in the work party but I did get one of what the area looked like after it was cleared. Imagine the area in the photo below with 100+ invasive vines emerging from the ground and you will get a sense of what it looked like at the beginning of the work party.
While we hadn’t had the “flood” of volunteers I’d hoped for, using the experience to trust that what we needed would be provided and taking the reduced numbers as an opportunity to practice flexibility, persistence, letting go, accepting what is, doing whatever it takes, equanimity, and being like a bird perched on a dry twig, ready to fly at a moment’s notice, meant we’d avoided getting stressed out and had even ended up accomplishing most of the day’s goals. The Bonus: together, we were a mix of people who worked well together and contributed to a satisfying and productive day.
From Spring of 2017 through Autumn of 2018, students from the University of Washington’s Introduction to Environmental Science class worked in our restoration site. The students were required to do three hours of volunteer work during the quarter, so their needs and ours matched very well. In November of 2018, I was dismayed to learn that the instructor was retiring at the end of the quarter and the future of the course was uncertain. That class had been our primary source of volunteers.
Losing those volunteers has been a good chance to practice taking the attitude “What you need will be provided.” I also kept in mind a line adapted from the movie, Field of Dreams– “If you build it, he (they) will come.”
In mid November 2018, DocuSign, a corporate group did our fall planting. On Martin Luther King Day, we had a sizable work party. In February, my neighbor John and I worked together to rescue a shrub that a massive pine tree branch had fallen on. We also had two winter work parties where the participants consisted primarily, or exclusively of team leaders.
As Spring came, I began to get worried. Blackberry shoots, bindweed and other invasives were emerging from the ground. I started working in the site on my own and thoroughly enjoyed the work, but I knew I couldn’t do everything that needed to be done by myself. In addition to trusting that what I needed would be provided, it was an opportunity to practice staying focused on what I was doing in the moment rather than being distracted and/or brought down by obsessing about the enormity of the whole task.
One day in mid-March, Lillie, a woman whom I had seen on the Hanford Stairs numerous times, stopped and talked with me. I invited her to help with the restoration work and she was interested. The first time she came, we cut up debris from the fallen pine tree branch and scattered it on an area where I had removed a drying rack.
The second time we worked together, we cut up debris on another drying rack and took it to The Rack Zone, a place we are beginning to prepare as a planting area.
A week or so after Lillie started working with me, a young man walked up to me as I was working near the stairs. His name is Mycole and he wanted to work with me once or twice a week. The first time he came, we removed wood chips from around the plants in two planting areas. The next time, we started taking apart a large drying rack, cutting up the debris and taking it to the Rack Zone. The last time we finished clearing an area I will describe later in this post.
The debris pile in the photos below is the one that Mycole, Lillie and I worked to dismantle. I don’t have a photo of what it looked like when we started, but my guess is that it was about 14 ft (L) x 10 ft by 5 feet (H). The first photo shows what it looked like after Mycole and I worked on it. A that point it was around 8 x 8 x 2.5. The second photo shows what it looks like now. It is only 12-18 inches high. We will eliminate it fully in the near future.
I had also applied to be a community partner in the Carlson Center’s (University of Washington) service-learning. They help match students who need volunteer opportunities as part of their course work with community partners who need help. This program is very different than the Introduction to Environmental Science students we had worked with between Spring Quarter of 2017 and Autumn Quarter of 2018. As I mentioned earlier, those students had a three-hour volunteer requirement to meet. The service-learning students would work in our Greenbelt site for three-hours a week for seven weeks.
Our application was accepted. This quarter we have four service-learning students. They are part of an English Composition course that is focusing on the Environment. It is fun to work with them and nice to have the continuity from week to week. Shirley, one of our most active team leaders, and I lead their weekly work parties.
During their first two service-learning experiences, the students focused on clearing weeds and grass from an area that is near the entrance to the restoration site. They also moved a big pile of tree and ivy branches from that area to a different part of the site. As each patch of ground was cleared, it was covered with wood chips. The students also cut up a big branch that had fallen on top of a large shrub during a wind or snow storm.
Click on the gallery to enlarge the photos.
When we started the project, the area looked like this:
The transformation in the land after the students worked on it for the two sessions was remarkable. Mycole and I finished that section two days after the second service-learning work party.
What a difference it makes to be greeted by this sight when walking towards the entrance to our Greenbelt site:
I’m thoroughly enjoying working with our new volunteers and with the volunteers who have been committed to this project for a long time. What we need is definitely being provided.
We will be planting 75 shrubs and ground covers in our GreenFriends forest restoration site on March 17. The March 10 work party focused on getting new areas prepared for planting. Almost all of our team leaders attended that work party as did seven members of the Franklin National Honor Society. In addition, friends of two of the team leaders worked with us. In all, 16 volunteers took part in the March 10 work party.
During the last two years, when we cut or pulled out vines such as blackberry, ivy and bindweed, and when we dug out blackberry root balls, we usually took the waste to the foundation of a house that exists on our Greenbelt site. Once there, we placed the waste on drying racks that we had built inside the foundation. We call that area “The Rack Zone” and we generally refer to the dried vines, branches and root balls as “debris.”
In January, we had taken apart the majority of the racks in The Rack Zone and spread the debris throughout the Zone. The debris will continue to decompose and in time The Rack Zone will become another planting area.
Not all of the debris is located in The Rack Zone however; some of it has been placed on racks that are scattered throughout the site. During the first part of the March 10 work party, we began the process of putting the dried debris in those piles on tarps… and then dumped the contents in The Rack Zone. Removing the piles of debris was the first step in getting those areas ready for planting.
We started by dismantling the racks on the south end of the site. The photo below shows what one area looked like at the beginning of the work party. Last Fall, that pile of debris had been four to five feet high but other work party participants had removed a lot of it. Our goal during this work party was to move the remainder of the debris to The Rack Zone.
We would also be taking down a big pile of debris just east of it. You can see part of that pile in the middle left section of the photo above. That pile was much bigger than what you can see in the photo.
These two piles were located at the southwest part of the site. We also removed a pile of debris in the southeast section of the site and one north of the Hanford Stairs.
(You can enlarge the photos in any of the galleries by clicking on one of the photos.)
The southwest area looked like this once the piles had been removed. The debris that is still scattered on the ground will become mulch.
While most of the volunteers were clearing the section on the southwest part of the site, a smaller group worked in the southeast area. The photo below was taken of this space the end of September 2018.
The volunteers in this group moved the pile of dried debris to The Rack Zone.
In the photo below, a team leader is teaching the students how to dig out blackberry root balls. If you look up the hill from where they are standing, you will also see some of the larger group working in the southwest area. By the time this photo was taken, both groups had removed most of the debris in their areas.
This is what the space in the southeast area looked like once the pile of debris and the blackberry root balls had been removed. The land is ready for planting and the remaining debris will be used for mulch.
An hour-and-a-half into the March 10 work party, we took a snack break. Afterwards, we divided into three groups.
Before I tell you about Group 1’s work, I will share some back story.
There is an area along 25th Ave S. that is part of an adjacent Greenbelt site. When we started to clear that area during the February 24 work party, blackberry, ivy and periwinkle vines formed a tight web over much of the ground. There was also a lot of downed trees, branches and other debris.
While we had accomplished a great deal on February 24, I felt overwhelmed by what it would take to have it ready for planting on March 17.
A few days later, I worked on my own and cleared enough space to feel some hope that we could have it ready by the 17th. My neighbor John worked alongside me the two following days. Since he uses a pick ax, we progressed much faster. The land suitable for planting was growing!
During this work party on March 10, Group 1 removed a debris pile from the 25th Ave. S area and expanded the planting area. They also moved a lot of the branches and logs that were scattered in that area and dug out blackberry root balls.
John and Jason, who are both neighbors and team leaders, worked in an area where blackberry vines had pulled two trees to the ground. They freed those trees and cut down blackberry vines in the surrounding area. I wish I had been present when the trees lost their shackles. I love to see how the they snap up and reach for the sky in that moment .
This area will take a lot more work to clear. Here is what it looks like now.
Prior to this work party, I marked the places where new plants will be planted. In each space, I placed a pink flag, a white sign that indicates the name of the plant and a stick with red and black flagging tape. The red and black tape indicates that the item was planted during the 2018-19 planting season.
On March 17, participants will look for the pink flags. They will then plant the specified shrub or ground covers putting the white sign and the stick with the red and black flagging tape into the ground next to the plant.
The third group of volunteers worked in the lower planting area that is on the north side of the Hanford Stairs and near Cheasty Blvd. Their task was to see that all three markers had been left for each future plant .
When that task was finished, those volunteers moved to a different part of the site and cleaned out leaves and wood chips from the “donut holes” around the trees, shrubs and ground covers that had been planted in previous years. (When we plant, we put a four inch layer of wood chips around each plant to hold in moisture. We keep the area close to the plant free of those wood chips. That area is referred to as the donut hole.)
The group also removed the leaves from one entire planting area. All of the leaves were taken to The Rack Zone. The areas looked so beautiful when the group finished their work.
The group who had worked in the southeast section during the first part of the work party, continued working there after the snack break. They finished digging out the root balls and then cut back the blackberry vines that are on the south edge of the property. (We have to leave a buffer zone between the neighbor’s house and the Greenbelt so we will need to continue to cut back those vines throughout the year and for years to come.)
In the third photo below you will see both the buffer zone and that there is a mound of dried debris that goes across the planting area. That area of the site is hilly. Numerous strips like that one were placed there last year in an attempt to prevent or reduce erosion.
I encouraged everyone to walk in The Rack Zone as much as possible throughout the work party, hoping all the traffic would break down the debris faster. I was delighted to see a group of volunteers gathering there towards the end of the event.
As always, I was amazed by how much we had accomplished during the three-hour work party. I believe everyone had a good time and I appreciated that the new planting areas were all ready to receive the new plants.
An added bonus is that the Franklin National Honor Society students want to come back! I look forward to working with them again in the future.
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.
raking up dried debris
spread compost dirt
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.
Cedar, Spruce and Douglas Fir trees
Area 3,4, 6, and 7
Area 5 and 8
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!