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Restoring Urban Forests in Airport Communities

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September 25, 2019

Volunteers “got their green on” at Angle Lake Park Nature Trail in the city of SeaTac on Saturday as they kicked off the first in a series of three planting events sponsored by the Port of Seattle. Led by non-profit Forterra and in close coordination with the City of SeaTac, 25 volunteers planted over 200 native trees, shrubs, and ground cover along the shore of Angle Lake.

These events are a turning point in a multi-year collaborative project to involve communities near the airport (Burien, Des Moines, and SeaTac) in Forterra’s Green City Partnerships program. The program was created with the philosophy that healthy forested parks and green spaces have the power to strengthen neighborhoods, provide safe access to nature, and offer many valuable benefits to the environment. 

Community volunteer plants a tree

Forterra’s Green City Partnerships program works with 15 cities and one county in the region to steward and restore urban forests. The program is committed to restoring 13,000 acres, has planted 1.2 million trees and shrubs, and trained 284 volunteers as forest stewards.Green City Partnerships serve more than 1.6 million residents across the state.

The Port’s Airport Community Ecology (ACE) funding has helped to bring Burien, Des Moines, and SeaTac into the network. In November 2016 the Port Commission authorized the ACE Fund, recognizing that neighboring communities that experience more impacts from airport operations should also receive more benefits. The program supports environmental projects and programs in the cities of SeaTac, Burien, and Des Moines through a two-pronged approach: 

  1. The Small Matching Grants Program offers community organizations the chance to apply for Port funding to improve the local environment; and
  2. Forterra's Green City Partnership supports long-term forest stewardship in SeaTac, Burien, and Des Moines. The Commission authorized $450,000 of the $1 million ACE Fund to fund the Green City Partnerships program.

The process

Forterra has collected feedback from 300 community members and is working with all three cities on Urban Forest Enhancement Plans that include a Tree Canopy Cover Assessment, a Forest Health Assessment, and findings from extensive community engagement activities in 2018. The Plans also provide a path forward to equitably increase canopy cover, preserve existing resources, and implement best practices for stewardship and restoration.

Green City Days

The next step is getting trees in the ground. Community members can volunteer to get their hands dirty and improve the parks in at these two upcoming events:
Oct. 12 in Burien from 9:00 a.m. – 12:00 p.m at the Community Center next to Dottie Harper Park

Oct. 19 in Des Moines from 9:00 a.m. – 12:00 p.m at the Kiddie Park

Woman and young girl stand next to a tree that they have just planted

Training land stewards

The Green City Partnerships also empower neighbors to become forest stewards in their own communities. Kiddie City Park in Des Moines was once a neglected forested parkland. Kelleen lived near the park but didn’t feel comfortable with her kids playing there. When she heard about the Green Des Moines Partnership and Port funding, she contacted the City of Des Moines and Forterra with a plan to turn the park around. So far Kelleen and Forterra have organized four work parties, hosted over 100 volunteers, removed seven truckloads of garbage and 700 pounds of invasive plants, and will plant 100 new trees and plants on October 19. Forterra holds stewardship orientations to teach community members how to get involved, walk through a restored site, and get more information.

What’s next

  • Forterra is working with each city to finalize a 20-year plan for restoring forests and increasing the tree canopy.
  • Forterra is supporting the Des Moines Memorial Drive Preservation Alliance to restore the “Living Road of Remembrance.” Nearly 100 years ago, 1,400 elm trees were planted along the drive, one for each Washington state resident who lost their life in World War I. These trees have almost disappeared because of development and disease. Through the ACE fund, the Port is funding Forterra’s efforts to conduct a detailed analysis of where elms can be replanted along the drive and to hold tree planting events.
  • In 2021, the Port will continue to support the goals established in the Urban Forest Management Plans.
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