Gene and Liz Brandzel were a couple of busy beavers as they led an Earth Day work party at the street end at 37th Avenue East, a natural area they’ve stewarded for more than a decade.
“It has turned into really the destination walking place,” said Gene Brandzel, and one that attracts people from around the city.
Located on the northeast border of Broadmoor, meeting the water’s edge at Lake Washington, the Beaver Lodge Sanctuary is so named because beavers actually have a lodge in Union Bay.
Gene Brandzel says the numbers counted around the lodge next to the old pier in the sanctuary are around seven, up from a previous count of four.
A community board at the Beaver Lodge Sanctuary on Sunday, April 22, showed four sightings as of early April.
“This is the third board,” Gene Brandzel said. “We’ve filled up two already.”
Residents had worried the beavers wouldn’t return when Broadmoor conducted dredging back in 2010 to improve pumping operations for the gated community’s golf course, but they’re now a counted population.
“We’re also keeping track of what kind of birds they’re seeing there over the period of the year,” Gene Brandzel said, referring to an information board left at the sanctuary for visitors to mark the date, time and numbers of birds they’ve seen.
Forty-five different types of birds had been reported in the Beaver Lodge Sanctuary as of April 4, he said.
It’s come a long way from what it was before the Brandzels and other committed neighbors began working on it.
“It had become really a garbage dump,” Brandzel said, “and it was a place for kids to do what they would not do in their own backyard.”
Gene Brandzel said that through community support more than 300 native species of plants and 33 trees have been planted at the sanctuary.
“It’s been a big task, and last spring we planted 90 news species and 13 trees,” he said.
There was some vandalism at the sanctuary in mid-March.
“Paint was thrown on our beautiful new walnut sign and on the dock,” Gene Brandzel said, but the sign has since been cleaned up.
Ridding the sanctuary of blackberries has been a task for many years, Gene Brandzel said, but the Earth Day work party focused on another invasive species — ivy.
About three to four work parties are held annually, said Gene Brandzel, and Earth Day just made sense to host another.
“People always wonder what they can do to make things better,” he said. “Well, this is it.”
Kip White brought out his young boys after seeing the work party sign, his family living around the corner from the Beaver Lodge Sanctuary.
Greg Crick also saw the sign.
“We’ve been in the neighborhood 17 years,” he said, “and we just like to help out. We enjoy this area a lot.”
No beavers were spotted during the work party, save for the fake one that served as a hat for Gene Brandzel — a gift from his kids.
“It was some kind of loving joke,” said Liz Brandzel.
She said she remembers when every tree on the street end was covered in blackberries, which literally need to be tackled at the root.
“This is a good time of year for the blackberry root ball,” she said, referring to the base of the blackberry root from which runners grow and spread. “If you don’t get the core, you’re not going to make any headway.”
Her husband cautioned her about working too hard pulling out ivy on April 22, as she was scheduled for back surgery in the next few weeks.
“I don’t always use the best judgment,” she said.
All of the ivy removed during the work parties are picked up by the Seattle Department of Transportation. Liz Brandzel said the city has been very engaged in making the Beaver Lodge Sanctuary a community asset, putting in benches and graveling the pathway down to the water. The Beaver Lodge Sanctuary sign was created by the Brandzels’ neighbor and furniture maker Noah Kriegsmann.
There’s been a pattern over the past three years of wetter winters followed by months without adequate precipitation, Gene Brandzel said, which usually starts around June.
Because a neighboring property owner wouldn’t let them tie into their water line to irrigate the sanctuary, and the Department of Ecology wouldn’t let them use the lake to create an irrigation system, Gene Brandzel said he worked with a friend to acquire two stainless steel milk tanks with a combined capacity of 1,300 gallons.
At the height of summer, it can cost $400 a week to keep plants adequately watered, Gene Brandzel said, and last year the Madison Park Community Council continued to support that effort with a financial contribution. He said he will be raising money again for this summer.
Last year buckets were put out for people to adopt plants that needed additional watering. Volunteers put flags next to thirstier plants, and left buckets for people to use. Visitors to the Beaver Lodge Sanctuary will be asked to help out again this summer.
“It turned out to be amazingly successful,” Gene Brandzel said, “as well as really providing a wonderful connection for families and kids that realize they have a responsibility to try to take care of the planet.”
Gene Brandzel said the cost of irrigating the Beaver Lodge Sanctuary is about half of what it would be without support from the Seattle Conservation Corps, and the hope is that irrigation can be removed this October. The native plants should be self-sustaining after the second year, he said.