Greenbelt Restoration Work Party: July 7, 2019

On Sunday July 7, we held our second work party of the summer. Twenty-two students from the University of Washington’s Introduction to Environmental Science class participated in the event, as did a volunteer who found us on the Green Seattle Partnership Event Page and a neighbor. One of our team leaders was unable to come that day, so Claire and I led the work party by ourselves. That ended up working fine since most of the work we did that day was done together.

After the orientation, the first task for the day was to add or reinforce wood chip rings around many of the trees, shrubs and ground covers we have planted since fall of 2017. The rings help hold in moisture during the dry summer months. During the work party, volunteers would also be watering some of the plants. After a snack break, we planned to remove bindweed from a Greenbelt site across Cheasty Blvd.

The area where we would start building the wood chip rings was on the far side of the site, far away from the wood chip pile. First of all, everyone filled buckets with wood chips. Afterwards, some of the students stayed at the wood chip pile and refilled the empty buckets as they were returned to the pile.

Most of the students formed a long line between the wood chip pile and the area where the chips would be placed around the plants. Buckets full of wood chips were passed from one person to another down the “bucket brigade” line. After the buckets were emptied, they were returned to the wood chip pile in the same manner. (I’m aware that my photos of the line only show empty buckets. Be assured that MANY filled buckets were passed as well!)

At the far end of the line, other volunteers created or reinforced the wood chip rings. They completed the rings in the far planting area much faster than I expected and then moved on to other parts of the site. They ended up making functional wood chip rings on about half of the site.

When I surveyed the work the next day, I was amazed to discover that the volunteers had completed 123 wood chip rings!

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

About 45 minutes into the work party, a small group was pulled from the bucket brigade line to start the watering. I have been watering some of the Greenbelt plants since the cistern was installed on the site, but this was the first time we’ve done it at a work party. The cistern is located near the top of the Hanford Stairs. The water system operates solely by gravity, so if we are working in a high area, which we were, the water pressure can be very low.

I was filling the buckets near the bottom of the highest planting area. Even so, the water came through the hose slowly. We have been asked by the Seattle Parks Department staff to give two gallons of water to each plant that needs it. I had a hard time filling buckets fast enough keep up with the volunteers who were pouring the water on the plants. Eventually, we started filling the buckets even lower on the site. That meant the volunteers had to carry the buckets further, but moving to the lower area really increased the water flow.

I’m sorry I didn’t get more photos of the water team; I was too busy figuring out how to get them water. Due to our persistence, 33 plants received two gallons of water during the work party!

An hour-and-a-half into the event, we took a break. Since the snack that day was ice cream, and because we had so few team leaders, I decided to hold the break on the back deck of my house; my house is adjacent to the Greenbelt. When the snack was ready, I looked down into the site and saw Claire leading a long line of volunteers towards my house. It was an amazing sight. After enjoying the ice cream, we took a group photo.

After the break, we walked down the Hanford Stairs and crossed Cheasty Blvd. Once there, we started digging out bindweed. (Last week, I wrote about some experiences in that site. That post was called “Oh No’s”.)

This is what the area looked like when we stopped at the end of the work party. We had filled six or seven bags with bindweed.

Since the bindweed in this site has been growing back so fast, I am doubtful that the area we cleared will stay clear. I wrote my Green Seattle Partnership supervisors today and asked for direction.

We had a wonderful work party. I feel so grateful for all of the volunteers who participated in the July 7th 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”.

“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: June 29, 2019

From Spring Quarter of 2017 through Autumn Quarter of 2018, students from the University of Washington’s Introduction to Environmental Science class helped with the forest restoration work on our site. In fact, they were our major source of volunteers!

I was very disappointed when the teacher retired at the end of 2018; disappointed for me, not for him. I had been told that he would probably teach the class again Summer Quarter of 2019. And he is! Students from the class attended our June 29 event, our first work party of the summer.

Shirley, Claire, Dave and I served as team leaders. Sixteen students from the Introduction to Environmental Science class, friends of two of the students, and John, a neighbor who has attended almost all of our work parties participated. Two other neighbors helped for a while; one signed in participants as they arrived and another took many of the photographs.

After an orientation, the participants were divided into four groups.

There were several places on the site where our native trees, shrubs and ground covers were being overtaken by blackberry and bindweed vines as well as other weeds. This was particularly a problem on the borders of the property. Shirley’s group cleared away the invasive plants on one of the planting areas that borders the east side of the site.

Click on any of the photo galleries to enlarge the photos!

***

Dave’s group worked on the upper south planting areas. There the blackberries had completely covered a debris pile that had been created when we first cleared blackberry and ivy vines from that portion of the land. Only a tiny bit of the dried debris was visible.

The group cut the blackberry vines away from the debris pile and in nearby areas and then took many loads of the dried debris to another part of the site. They carried the live cuttings to drying racks located elsewhere on the property.

John also worked in that area. With his trusty pickaxe, he cleared many blackberry vines and weeds from the southwest corner of the site.

***

Generally, I focus on coordinating the event rather than leading a team. At this work party though, I lead a small team of three students. They worked on two projects. They did such a good job, even though I was only with them from time to time.

When there is a dead tree on the site, it is generally not cut down. As the tree decays, and even after it falls, it nourishes birds, animals and insects either by providing shelter or food. There was a dead shrub on this property that had grown as big as a small tree. Its branches were dropping into some of our new trees and shrubs. The first job this group did was to cut back those low hanging branches so they didn’t interfere with the growth of the new native plants.

When the students finished that project, they started clearing the blackberry vines that were growing into the planting areas along the lower part of the southern border of the site.

Claire’s group cleared bindweed and other invasive plants from an area that was also covered with native bracken ferns. Those ferns had surprised me when they emerged from the ground last year since I didn’t know they were there. They covered a lot of the native plants we had planted.

It was tricky to remove the invasive bindweed without hurting the bracken ferns or other native plants but the students did a good job of doing it. Towards the end of the work party they also removed the suckers that were coming out of two maple trees.

The work party had begun at 10:00 a.m. At 11:30 we stopped for a snack break and to take a group photo.

After the break, all of the groups continued their work. At 12:40 participants began the final tasks. They put the remainder of the invasive plants they had removed on drying racks, gathered the tools and took them to the tool box, put all the supplies away and joined together for a closing. During the closing, we celebrated all that they had accomplished during the three hour work party.

I think everyone had a good time. I sure did!

Service-Learning Work Parties: May 6, 13 and 20, 2019

On May 6, the UW students came for their fifth service-learning experience. Most weeks Shirley, one of our team leaders, and I both work with the students. This week Shirley was not available. The rest of us weeded four planting areas (2050 sq. ft.) and put wood chip rings around 90 trees, shrubs and ground covers in the eastern part of the site. The wood chip rings hold in moisture thereby increasing the chance the plants will survive during a dry summer.

On May 13, Shirley was back. Once again, we weeded and put wood chip rings around plants, this time in the northwest part of the site. These areas had many more weeds than the places where we had worked on May 6. At this work party, we weeded 3705 sq. ft. and built 116 wood chip rings. I’m sorry I didn’t take photos that day; but am glad that Shirley took a few.

However, the next day I did snap photos of some of the planting areas where we had worked. I thought they looked so beautiful.

May 20 was the last service-learning session. Shirley and I decided the group would spend the whole time working on the new site across Cheasty Boulevard. We had begun to clear bindweed and other invasive vines from that area on April 29. This was what the land looked like before and during the April 29 work party.

(You can enlarge the photos in any of the galleries by clicking on the gallery.)

We had done so much clearing on April 29. I was shocked when I visited that site two days before the May 20 work party. While some of our previous work was still visible, the bindweed was already on shrubs we had rescued at the earlier work party, and the bindweed we hadn’t pulled then had grown at an unbelievable rate.

I knew there was no way we would be able to remove all of the bindweed, ever; I’ve read that the roots can go down 32 feet! But we would clear away as much of it as we could.

I was surprised to see that many of the bindweed roots were woven together like a lattice. However, since the group that had planted the shrubs, years ago when the lower part of the Hanford Stairs were built, had covered the area with wood chips, the roots were more surface than I’ve ever seen before. To see what I mean by long roots, be sure to take a look at the last photo in the gallery below!

We filled bucket after bucket with the vines. Once the buckets were full, we emptied them on the drying racks along Cheasty Blvd that we had built last summer. (I took the photo of the drying rack four days later than the work party, so the bindweed was already wilting.)

We spent the last hour of the work party spreading wood chips on the part of the site we had cleared.

I have no illusion that the bindweed is gone but there is sure a lot less of it and the land we cleared looks wonderful. We had removed the bindweed from the area around three salal shrubs and two snowberry shrubs and circled them with wood chip rings. A few days later, I saw mushrooms had emerged from the ground a little lower on the site.

What a wonderful and productive last service-learning session we had. I feel very grateful to the students for all they have done during the last seven weeks. Because of their work, our Greenbelt restoration site is so much more prepared for the dry summer months.

Greenbelt Restoration Work Party: Amrita Bala Kendra

On Sunday May 5, five children from the Seattle Amma Satsang’s Amrita Bala Kendra group, along with six of their adult family members held their second work party in our forest restoration site. (The group’s first visit to the site was a litter pick-up work party in February 2017.)

All of the small trees, shrubs and ground covers on the site have a ring of wood chips around them. The wood chips help the ground to retain water during the summer months. The area close to each of the plants is supposed to stay free of wood chips so that the plant will be able to take advantage of any rainfall. During this work party, the kids and their family members cleared away any wood chips that had fallen into the center of the rings.

They also poured wood chips around a new structure that had been built by the DocuSign team during the April 24 work party. It will be used as a “stage” for orientation, a place to sit during breaks and for group photos such as the one at the top of this post. The wood chips around the stage will become part of the system of paths on the property.

The group was blessed with a beautiful day, made a significant contribution to this future forest, and had a fun time together.

Greenbelt Restoration Work Party: May 4, 2019

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.

Guest Post: A Morning With The Greenbelt Crew by Lin Rose

Lin

“I’m looking for Karuna,” a tall young man said as he descended the first tier of the Hanford Stairs to the Greenbelt work party.

He was the last of 20 volunteers from the University of Washington’s Introduction to Environmental Science class that turned up on a cold, foggy morning in Seattle to volunteer their labor. Below us, the silver cars of the Light Rail Transit system rattled across the horizon, headed for SeaTac. Tall maples showing fall colors formed a canopy overhead, and ferns filled the understory.

“Just sign your name here on the roster,” I said, offering my clipboard. “Then follow the blue flags along the trail to find Karuna and the others and get some work gloves.”

He strode off enthusiastically into the greenery, leaving me free to walk around the work site and take pictures. I had been afraid the footing would be too uneven for me to handle, but the expertly built wood-chip trails were cushy and sturdy. I just followed the dozens of little blue flags marking the way.

Seeing what the crews have accomplished during this year’s and last year’s work seasons blew me away. The photographs over the months have simply not done the scene justice! For one thing, the drying piles of blackberry and ivy debris are bigger than they look, and areas that have been re-planted with native trees and plants have a more complex flagging and labeling system than can be captured in photos.

I could tell the layout has been carefully thought out and executed. The site will become a lovely forest as everything begins to take hold and mature.

Another way to tell what has been accomplished is to compare the left side of the Hanford Stairs to the right side.

To the right of the stairs (see the photo below—the north side of the site) is a solid wall of greenery—you can’t even make out individual trees among the tall tangle of blackberries, miscellaneous vines, and other invasive plants. It’s a telling indication of what the greenbelt volunteers had to deal with when they began the cleanup!

To the left of the stairs—the south side of the site—is an open slope dotted with ferns and tiny new plantings below the maples, cedars, cherry, and alder trees that now stand in the open, free of their former strangulation by ivy and blackberry vines.

 

My photos don’t do any better justice to the project than those before them—but I can’t resist trying to give a sense of the work that’s being done.

Watching the students’ bucket brigade reminded me of a line of ants as they carried wood chips from a giant pile at the foot of the stairs, across the road, up the stairs, and handed them off to other workers lined up along the trail. The trail ants ferried buckets to an area where they were being emptied around some new plantings to form a trail. Then the ants headed back down the stairs and started over. I was transfixed by all that youthful energy and willing teamwork.

 

Karuna unobtrusively walked a circular loop that went up and down the stairs and back and forth on the trail as she conferred with coordinators spotted around at strategic points to direct the volunteers. Clearly, she loves this place. If she stood still long enough, she might grow roots right in the middle of a cluster of ferns.

Greenbelt Restoration Work Party: The DocuSign Employees Come Back!

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.

During that work party, the 42 DocuSign volunteers planted 330 shrubs and ground covers.

Last Friday (April 27), DocuSign held another IMPACT day, and once again they chose our site to be one of the options. This time we had 20 volunteers from DocuSign and a student from the University of Washington’s Introduction to Environmental Science class.

Our staff consisted of  Claire (GreenFriends), Jeb (Forterra) and me (GreenFriends and Green Seattle Partnership.)

I had been working with Andrew and Maksim from DocuSign to plan the event. Maksim attended the work party as well. His help that day was invaluable.

The group signed in, picked up gloves, listened to a short orientation…

 

… divided into three teams and began to work.

Team 1 gathered the remaining wood chips from our mulch pile and placed them around each plant in 2 1/2 planting areas. The mulch will hold in moisture and make it more likely that the plants will survive the summer if there is little to no rain. (In March there was 15 cu. yd. of mulch in that pile. At that time, it was 6-8 feet high!)

 

Team 2 removed weeds. While all of this land had been cleared during the year, shoots of blackberry, ivy and bindweed vines were popping up throughout the site. After the work party, I discovered that the group had weeded more than 13,500 sq.ft. of land. The ground looked so clean and open.

 

(Note: Two of our planting areas contain lots of horsetails. Horsetails are native plants; ones that were here before there were dinosaurs. We leave most of the horesetails alone, removing them only when they are crowding out other native plants.)

Team 3 worked on a part of the site that we hadn’t worked on before. It is located on the west side of Cheasty Boulevard. We chose to start in a place where there are some gigantic trees. They are located near the bottom of a steep slope. The team cleared blackberry vines and ivy from the ground and made survival rings around four big cottonwood trees. (Note: A survival ring is created by removing ivy from all sides of a tree starting at ground level and going to shoulder height. Cut off from their roots, the rest of the ivy in the tree will die off.)

The group created two drying racks behind the trees. All of the debris was placed on these racks in order to prevent the vines from reaching the ground and regrowing.

 

These “Before” and “After” photos show the dramatic changes the team made in this area.

Before

After

Once again, the DocuSign volunteers (and the UW student) did incredible work. I look forward to the possibility that they will return here in November for their next Global Impact Day!

Greenbelt Restoration Work Party: April 8, 2018

April 8 was our first work party of Spring Quarter. I so love this forest restoration work and I love working with the University of Washington Introduction to Environmental Science students and, of course, anyone else who joins us. It had only been three weeks since our last work party but it felt a lot longer than that to me. I was eager and ready.

There was a lot of rain the week leading up to the event. The weather forecast for that day was breezy weather and rain but we lucked out. It rained as I was setting up, but there was none during the work party. Twenty-three students braved the forecast and came ready to work. Three GreenFriends members served as team leaders.

We split into two teams for the first part of the event. The larger group moved 1250 sq. ft. of burlap from the street into different sections of the restoration site. The burlap is used to cover areas we have cleared of invasive plants such as blackberry and ivy vines. The burlap helps to reduce weed growth and prevent erosion. Having it located onsite gives us easier access to it.

(Click on the galleries to enlarge the photos.)

 

After all the burlap had been moved, the same group starting filling buckets with wood chips. Wood chips are spread around each plant and also throughout the planting areas. The wood chips serve as mulch, thereby holding in water, making it more likely the plants will survive during the dry summer months. Both the wood chips and the burlap will eventually decompose and enrich the soil.

 

The second group focused on weeding; in this case searching for and removing ivy and blackberry vines. These vines have smothered and killed most of the trees and shrubs in this section of the Greenbelt and we need to prevent them from regrowing so that they don’t destroy all of the native trees, shrubs and ground covers we’ve planted since October.

 

Midway through the work party we took a snack break…..

and then everyone participated in a bucket brigade. We sent the buckets we had previously filled with wood chips down the line and then started filling more. Once each bucket reached the end of the line the wood chips were poured around newly planted shrubs, and then throughout the planting area.

 

We were able to spread the mulch through three different planting areas. Below are photos of two of them.

 

Once again, we had accomplished so much during the three hour work party and I think everyone had enjoyed working together. I know I did!