Forest Stewards Catherine Nunneley (left) and Trina Wherry at the Harrison Ridge Greenbelt. Photo by Anna Carriveau
Forest Stewards Catherine Nunneley (left) and Trina Wherry at the Harrison Ridge Greenbelt. Photo by Anna Carriveau

Each year, Seattle Parks and Recreation applauds the volunteer service of individuals, groups and organizations with its Denny Awards. The parks superintendent also handpicks one group and one individual for the Denny Superintendent’s Award.

Seattle Parks and Recreation and Superintendent Jesús Aguirre honored the Green Seattle Partnership’s Forest Stewards with the 2015 Denny Superintendent’s Award for their contributions made to restoring and maintaining Seattle’s forested parklands.

The Green Seattle Partnership has restored more than 1,232 acres of forested parkland through a collaborative effort with the City of Seattle, Forterra and many community volunteers. Green Seattle is one of the largest volunteer programs within the parks department, logging 781,000 volunteer hours since its inception in 2004.

Of the thousands of volunteers who participate are 150 Forest Stewards, who are dedicated to 50 parks across Seattle. Forest Stewards lead volunteer projects focused on removing invasive plants and replanting native trees and shrubs that will grow into healthy forests that support local wildlife and ecosystem. 

Catherine Nunneley is the Forest Steward of the Harrison Ridge Greenbelt in Madison Valley, on 32nd Avenue East between East John Street and East Denny Way. She has been working on the greenspace for the last seven years and was a nominee for the 2015 Denny Award.

According to Nunneley, work on the greenbelt is slow and steady, but volunteers see new progress each year.

“This is the first year that the plants we put in seven years ago have begun to blend into the surrounding forest and need little maintenance,” she said.

Dedicated volunteers

The restoration of the greenbelt began after Nunneley joined community members in a Save the Trees campaign. She and a small group of volunteers cut down invasive ivy overwhelming trees and worked to improve an empty, weed-ridden lot that formerly held a home in the greenbelt.

Madison Valley residents have endeavored to protect the land for more than 70 years, Nunneley said, curbing two housing developments, caring for the area with reforestation grants and spreading awareness about the hillside’s importance through partnerships with local schools and the publication of “City Woods,” a booklet dedicated to the greenbelt’s past and ecology.

Those volunteers moved on to other things, but Nunneley continued refining the space, and eventually, more residents joined in, including fellow Forest Stewards Evelyn Hall and Trina Wherry.

“Evelyn Hall came to work with me for several years and basically taught me most of what I know about reforestation,” Nunneley said. “

Hall would move to Oregon, but Nunneley gained another knowledgeable partner, Trina Wherry, who is also on the Washington Park Arboretum board.

The parks department gives the Forest Stewards up to $200 each fall for plants and resources.

“We choose plants that are pretty, provide food for birds and provide a natural forest feel,” Nunneley explained. “We plant them and then weed and mulch until they are established — usually a few years.”

Volunteers hail from the community and organizations, such as Earthcorps, Seattle Parks and Recreation and Forterra.

The nearby Bush School even lends a hand, sending a group of middle school students to help out twice a year for about six weeks, as part of Ben Wheeler’s urban forestry class.

While the Forest Stewards are not alone in their endeavor, recruiting additional volunteers has been tough.

“People seem to have too much on their plates to add another thing. It would be wonderful to have more support from individuals in the community...,” Nunneley said. “It’s important to preserve our open urban forests because they are in a limited supply. Without effort, developers would be more than happy to build over every greenspace in the city.

There are other benefits, too, she said: The urban forests are beautiful when maintained, add value to the housing market and provide a habitat for birds and other animals. Without care, they easily become overgrown with invasive plants and mostly harbor rats and raccoons.”

Celebrating communities

The nonprofit conservation organization Forterra created the Green Seattle Partnership as a one-time, 20-year investment in the restoration of our forested parklands.

It recruits volunteers through such events as Green Seattle Day, an annual event held each fall to kick off planting season. Last year, the event brought about 1,000 people into Seattle parks to plant native trees and shrubs.

Andrea Mojzak, the Green Cities project manager for Forterra, said, she has seen the number of Forest Stewards grow from 60 to 150 in the last eight years.

“As we become a more dense city, these places become more valuable and it’s more important that we steward them,” Mojzak said. “Just having them and taking care of them is great for residents, for youths to get outside, for habitat, for wildlife.”

The Harrison Ridge Greenbelt volunteers have “created community around that space,” she continued. “That happening in neighborhoods all across Seattle is something we don’t celebrate enough.”

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