A native forest restoration project benefitted from the backbreaking work of a bunch of students, who hauled compost up a steep hill by the bucket load, and their teachers helped too.

The forest is the Harrison Ridge Greenbelt on 32nd Avenue East, between John and Denny. As with greenbelts throughout Seattle, many of the trees on the Harrison Ridge have been engulfed by ivy, blackberry, holly, clematis and other invasive species.

However, starting years ago, with support from Seattle Parks and Recreation and the tireless stewardship of neighbors Jerry Sussman, Catherine Nunneley and others, volunteers have periodically cut back ivy, fought with blackberry, pulled clematis out of tall tree branches, and (the most rewarding) planted native species. Much of the site is inhabited by the towering native red alder, but cedar and fir trees, plus smaller native shrubs, are gradually filling in. 

We have this greenbelt because of the geologic instability of the site - it is prone to landslides, which stopped a street in the 1930s — 33rd Avenue between Harrison and Denny — and a housing project in the early 1970s. We can also thank the neighborhood’s determination and city’s decision to add the 6.2 acres to Seattle’s greenspaces. The city purchased the property from landowners, and the steep wooded hillside became the Harrison Ridge Greenbelt. 

The kids who moved all of that compost are enrolled in the Urban Forest Stewardship elective program at Bush School. Last fall the seventh- and eighth-graders, and the teachers who lead the program, planted 10 Douglas firs, five grand firs, salal, Oregon grape, red twig dogwood, sword ferns, kinnikinnick and other native species - more than 300 plants in all. Those plants will need extra care until they develop good root systems. On Earth Day they started moving that compost to parts of the greenbelt that will need protection during the dry summer months. 

The challenge for restoration projects, aside from tenacious ivy and other opportunists, is that the normal cycle of plants in a wood — succession — happens over time, with each stage specific to site conditions. Restoration, on the other hand, jump starts that succession, with forest stewards bringing in new plants rather than waiting for the squirrels and birds and wind to do the job. During the dry months volunteers will use buckets and the generosity (to wit, water supply) of nearby neighbors to haul the water uphill to the young plants.   

On Harrison Ridge, volunteers work with forest stewards who are trained and supported by Green Seattle Partnership, a collaboration between SPR and Forterra. 

If neighbors can help haul water for an hour - even if only once during the summer, or once a month or even once a week - send a note to HarrisonRidgeVolunteer@gmail.com. As added encouragement, the small but lovely greenbelt is a great place for a rewarding workout, and it’s cheaper than CrossFit. 

Linda Becker is the lead forest steward for the Harrison Ridge Greenbelt.