Almost two years ago former Madison Park resident Gene Brandzel set his sights on transforming an ugly patch of land at a street end on Prospect Street into property that Seattle residents could enjoy.ow, the flora is planted and the sign installed marking the Prospect Street Nature Preserve in Madison Park complete.
The preserve, a swath of land tucked in between the north boundary of the Seattle Tennis Club and residences on 41st Street East and Prospect Street, was created by volunteers and the City of Seattle but spearheaded by Brandzel. He got the idea in late 2018, and the first work party took place April 27 of 2019. In early November of this year, the sign, created by wood worker Noah Kriegsmann, was installed.
“So really it was my idea that it was something that we could do in the neighborhood that would help the environment and also get rid of something of an eye sore and garbage dump,” Brandzel said.
In the first and subsequent work parties, Brandzel said volunteers cleared out 17 truckloads of blackberries, ivy and clematis — all invasive species — and lots of garbage, including car fenders, bumpers, batteries and approximately 65 bags of bottles and 300 tennis balls.
“They worked so hard to get it clear,” Brandzel said.
Before the city limited the size of work parties, volunteers came from throughout Seattle to help. A fair number came from Starbucks, Brandzel said.
“At one point, we had 30 to 35 people there at the same time,” Brandzel said. “So we just got an enormous amount done when we could have those size parties.”
When it came time to plant, Brandzel worked with local landscaper Octavia Chambliss, of Octavia Chambliss Garden Design, with whom he had partnered on a nearby beaver sanctuary a couple years ago. He said Chambliss was critical in the completion of the nature preserve. She worked with Omar Akkari, Seattle Department of Transportation Waterfront Street End coordinator, in choosing the plants and designing the landscaping. She also purchased the plants and the trees.
Brandzel estimates $10,000 was raised to buy the plants and trees for the preserve. While volunteers planted the majority of the smaller plants, Chambliss’s landscaping crew installed all the trees. Instead of planting saplings, Chambliss and her team installed more mature trees, and big enough to require know-how.
In early October, after the city prohibited large work parties, Chambliss’ staff planted the last round of foliage, comprised of 220 plants and six trees, for a grand total of 818 plants and 37 trees.
Chambliss said almost everything planted in the nature preserve is native to Washington.
“The City of Seattle really recommends that you use native plants that can kind of adapt to the surroundings,” she said.
Trees including shore pines, vine maples and Western dogwood make up the canopy, while the understory, or vegetation under the trees, include ferns, currants and flowered plants.
“All the plants and trees are now planted,” Brandzel said. “There really isn’t any room for more.”
After about 10 months of total work, Brandzel, Chambliss and Noah Kriegsmann, a local wood craftsman, gathered in early November for the last step of the project: installation of the sign Kriegsmann carved out of locally salvaged Western walnut and donated to the project.
While the nature preserve is approximately 11,000 square feet, the entire area up to the waterfront is about 16,200.
“I figure that this place is [worth] at least $17 million, but it’s going to be all for the benefit of the community,” Brandzel joked.
While the heavy lifting is finished and the site developed, a couple of questions remain regarding the future of the nature preserve.
Initially, SDOT had planned on installing an irrigation system at the site, Brandzel said, but that was postponed after COVID-19. To make sure the new plants and trees survived over the summer, Brandzel and Chambliss spent 14 to 15 hours a week hand-watering the foliage with 125 feet of hose and water supplied by the neighboring tennis club.
“It was a heck of a job, so I really hope that SDOT is able to put in the irrigation system,” he said.
Fortunately, Brandzel said the Prospect Street Nature Reserve doesn’t require any work this winter. All the weeding and preparation for the winter was completed during the last round of planting.
Maintenance will have to resume in about April when the weeds, blackberries, clematis and ivy volunteers couldn’t completely remove come back. The preserve will require additional weeding and watering twice more next year, likely in July and October.
“Right now, the real challenge is going to be maintenance, and until we can have work parties again of any size, it’s really necessary for us to get outside help in maintaining the facility,” Brandzel said. “In order to do that, it’s going to take dollars.”
A Go Fund Me account has already been set up for the site, with a new fundraising goal of $5,000, which Brandzel estimates would be enough to pay for a year’s worth of maintenance and other expenses.
Even with the uncertainty about irrigation and maintenance, Brandzel is pleased with the Prospect Street Nature Reserve.
“When we started the project, many skeptics in the neighborhood told us that it would take 10 years to complete the project,” Brandzel said in an email. “We all did it, together, in 10 months, not years. The preserve has become an important oasis for the renewal of spirit of many residents of our community in these COVID times.”
To contribute to the Prospect Street Nature Preserve, go to https://www.gofundme.com/f/prospect-preserve.