Grants, volunteers help city maintain trails, open space

April 6, 2010

By Warren Kagarise

Invasive blackberry, holly, Japanese knotweed and Scotch broom proved to be no match for the hundreds of people who volunteered to maintain city-owned open space and trails last year.

Volunteers focused last year on maintenance in the open spaces and parks cleared in 2008. Teams cleared 12 to 15 acres of the invasive plants from the Park Hill Open Space in the Overdale Park neighborhood, Timberlake Park along Lake Sammamish and other sites in 2008, and kept the unwanted plants off the site in 2009.

Volunteers returned to the sites last year to plant native shrubs and trees where invasive plants used to grow, city Open Space Steward Matt Mechler said in a presentation to City Council members late last month. The work will continue in the months ahead, he added.

Mechler detailed efforts to preserve open space and maintain city trails in a March 23 report to the Committee-of-the-Whole Council. The city owns about 1,300 acres of open space.

“We worked on getting those invasives under control and then just maintaining them last year, with the hopes that once the invasives are under control then we’ll be doing some native planting at these sites,” Mechler said.

Besides invasive plant removal, the city worked with conservation groups last year to maintain the network of trails crisscrossing Issaquah.

Issaquah Alps Trails Club volunteers helped complete a quarter-mile section of the Talus Bridge Trail to connect the urban village with the Bear Ridge Trail on Cougar Mountain.

The city partnered with Mountains to Sound Greenway Trust to install culverts and add ditches to improve drainage along about a mile of the Bullitt Fireplace Trail, a connector between a Squak Mountain neighborhood and Squak Mountain State Park.

The city teamed with the organization to improve wetland along the Maple-Juniper Trail. Backed by a $5,000 grant from REI, volunteers removed invasive plants from the area and planted more than 600 native plants along the trail. A Boy Scout working to earn Eagle status built bat houses along the trail as part of the restoration project.

Eagle Scout hopefuls completed eight parks projects — totaling more than 500 volunteer hours — for the city last year. The efforts included trail construction and maintenance.

Councilman Joshua Schaer asked how city Parks & Recreation Department staffers plan for upcoming projects.

“When we look at our goals, especially come budget time, it’s important to know where we’re going to stand in the next year so that we can allocate more dollars to your department if you think that more can be done,” he said. “Or, conversely, if it’s all going to be grant-funded or volunteer, do you need as much money?”

City Parks Planner Margaret Macleod said most of the open-space projects use grant dollars, or utilize city money to leverage grants from government agencies and conservation groups.

“We always seek grants,” she said. “That is one of the primary things in our department that we try to do.”

Officials noted how grants and volunteer contributions dwarf the money and manpower the city could allocate to open-space preservation.

Projects for 2010 include Issaquah Creek restoration efforts at downtown Berntsen Park and Squak Valley Park North near the Sycamore neighborhood. The city partnered with the Washington Native Plant Society for the Berntsen Park project.

Crews will build kiosks at Timberlake Park. Workers will build a manmade wetland in Emily Darst Park to replace wetlands destroyed when teams break ground on the Interstate 90 Undercrossing and a pedestrian overpass on state Route 900. The city will also add a small nature trail through the park, and connect the path to Pickering Trail.

Throughout the year, Mechler will continue to survey open space to determine boundaries. The effort also helps the city find invasive plants, hazardous trees, illegal dumping and encroachments from neighboring landowners.

“It should be a busy year with volunteer events doing invasive removal and other great projects,” he said.

Councilwoman Eileen Barber praised volunteers for donating effort and time to improve parks and trails.

“The quantity of volunteer hours and the richness that we gain from those dedicated people to our community provides us with this community that we have,” she said.

Warren Kagarise: 392-6434, ext. 234, or wkagarise@isspress.com. Comment at www.issaquahpress.com.

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