Going green in Kent: Land Conservancy grant provides funds for public to be trained as stewards

It frustrates Doug Hill as he walks along the shoulder of the Green River Road in south Kent to see blackberries growing through the guardrail. That’s one of the reasons Hill wants to help out the city of Kent by joining its new volunteer Green Kent program that starts up in December. “There are not enough people to see all of these places much less take care of it,” said Hill as he uses a machete to slash away blackberry vines along a shoulder overseen by the city of Kent public works department under the South 277th Street overpass. Hill fits the type of person Kent park officials want to become Green Kent stewards. In that capacity, stewards will help restore more than 1,100 acres of public lands over the next 20 years. The program, developed in a city partnership with the Cascade Land Conservancy, kicks off with an orientation meeting Dec. 4 for anyone interested in becoming a steward.

Doug Hill points out some of the invasive plants Tuesday that grow on the hill of the South 277th Street overpass just above the Green River Road. Hill plans to become a Green Kent steward to oversee the area for the city.

Doug Hill points out some of the invasive plants Tuesday that grow on the hill of the South 277th Street overpass just above the Green River Road. Hill plans to become a Green Kent steward to oversee the area for the city.

It frustrates Doug Hill as he walks along the shoulder of the Green River Road in south Kent to see blackberries growing through the guardrail.

That’s one of the reasons Hill wants to help out the city of Kent by joining its new volunteer Green Kent program that starts up in December.

“There are not enough people to see all of these places much less take care of it,” said Hill as he uses a machete to slash away blackberry vines along a shoulder overseen by the city of Kent public works department under the South 277th Street overpass.

Hill fits the type of person Kent park officials want to become Green Kent stewards. In that capacity, stewards will help restore more than 1,100 acres of public lands over the next 20 years. The program, developed in a city partnership with the Cascade Land Conservancy, kicks off with an orientation meeting Dec. 4 for anyone interested in becoming a steward.

The Seattle-based Cascade Land Conservancy is a nonprofit group that works to conserve acres of forests, farms, shorelines, parks and natural areas throughout Western Washington. Cascade Land started its Green Cities program five years ago in Seattle and also works with the cities of Kirkland, Redmond and Tacoma to come up with plans to restore urban parks and natural areas and take care of those areas after restoration.

“It’s a volunteer-driven program,” said Norah Kates, a Green Cities project associate for Cascade Land Conservancy. “The volunteers are the backbone to get the work done.”

Kent park officials attended a conference two years ago about the Green Cities program in Seattle and figured the project could be a good fit for Kent as well.

Victoria Andrews, special programs manager for Kent parks, applied for and received a $95,000 grant from the Renton-based King Conservation District to hire Cascade Land Conservancy to kick off the Green Kent project. The King Conservation District is an agency authorized by state law in 1939 to support land and water use and conservation. It is funded by property taxes.

“We can’t do what needs to be done without something like this,” Andrews said. “We need volunteers. We would never be able to hire everyone we need.”

Kent has had an active parks volunteer program for years to help restore parks by removing invasive plants and planting native trees and bushes. The Green Kent project is expected to take that program to a more active level with more projects and volunteers.

Hill likes the project and plans to become a steward to oversee the hillside, shoulders and riverbanks along the Green River Road. Hill lives just down the road from South 277th Street in Auburn, but has volunteered at Kent park projects as well as projects in Tukwila and Pierce County. He initially led Boys Scouts parks projects before simply volunteering himself.

“I like to do it because I work in an office all day and I get to do something physical,” Hill said, eyeing blackberries and Scotch broom needing removal between the Green River Road and the South 277th Street overpass.

Hill has driven past the public area, overseen by the Kent public works department, for years. A paved trail runs up the hill to 108th Avenue Southeast and a pedestrian-bicycle bridge crosses the Green River. There also is access to the river, making the area a popular fishing spot.

“It’s kind of a pretty little spot,” Hill said. “But this place has griped me because invasive plants took over. We need to get rid of those and plant what we like to see.”

Hill stated the exact goal of Green Kent. The project is designed to find people to oversee areas of 1 acre or less, almost like they are adopting a park or natural area. Stewards will coordinate work parties to remove invasive plants, plant native plants and then make sure the area is maintained.

“People can select their own site,” Kates said. “It might be near their home or work or an area they have a connection with.”

Staff from the city and Cascade Land Conservancy will work with the stewards to come up with a restoration plan for the site. They will help determine what plants to remove and which plants to plant.

“We have more than 100 stewards in Seattle and they have been doing some really good work,” Kates said.

Andrews hopes to start out with at least 10 stewards in Kent. The city will provide all of the tools and gloves needed, including special weed wrenches designed to remove Scotch bloom. City and Cascade Land Conservancy staff also will help stewards to recruit volunteers to work on projects as the stewards assume a leadership role rather than simply doing the restoration work.

“We have a built-in volunteer force,” said Andrews, who has organized restoration projects for years and will help refer volunteers to Green Kent projects.

If the stewards do not have a specific area they want to oversee, the city has plenty of spots that need work. Andrews said the priority areas include Clark Lake Park on the East Hill, Earthworks Park, Lake Fenwick Park and the Green River Natural Resources area (which is along Russell Road, south of South 212th Street).

Parks staff will ask stewards to commit to two years to oversee projects, but will not hold people to that commitment if circumstances change in their lives and they can no longer devote time to the program.

“We hope they will have projects every month or every other month,” said Andrews, who anticipates the projects could start as soon as January.

City staff has mapped out projects that need to be done based on the amount of invasive plants in each park or natural area.

Hill can’t wait to get going.

“We need to yank out the Scotch bloom and blackberries,” said Hill as he pointed out bush after bush that has overtaken the hillside just below the South 277th Street overpass.

WHAT: Orientation meeting

WHEN: 9 a.m. to noon, Dec. 4

WHERE: Kent Senior Activity Center

REGISTER: www.greenkent.org or call Victoria Andrews at 253-856-5113.


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