Ceremony dedicates greenhouse complex to be used for Elwha River restoration

CARLSBORG — The crowd had much to celebrate: nature’s healing powers, a big, warm house, one man whose touch was magic.

The dedication Thursday morning of Olympic National Park’s new 2,100-square-foot greenhouse at Robin Hill County Park was a festive event, with a sprinkling of tears.

The greenhouse, together with a nearby cabin for park staff and volunteers, comprises the Matt Albright Native Plant Center.

Its completion signifies a step closer to restoration of the Elwha River to its torrential, salmon-rich glory.

Albright was a man who grew plants in a less-than-optimal facility at the park’s headquarters near Port Angeles.

For 19 years he nurtured young trees, ferns and other foliage, so that degraded areas of Olympic National Park could be brought back to health.

Albright took part in the plans for the massive Elwha River restoration, a $308 million project that will include removal of the Glines Canyon and Elwha dams beginning in 2011.

He envisioned a new greenhouse where he and his team of volunteers would grow the plants to rejuvenate some 700 acres surrounding the river.

But in 2007, Albright developed germ cell cancer.

He died in July of that year, eight weeks after his diagnosis.

‘Most positive’

At Thursday’s dedication, his colleagues and three of his children remembered the man who found pure joy in growing things.

Albright “loved what he did; he was dedicated to it, and he respected everyone he worked with,” said Cat Hawkins Hoffman, Olympic National Park’s chief of natural resources.

“He was one of the most humble, most positive people I’ve ever known.”

Hoffman recalled the way Albright made do with the old, shaded greenhouse.

“It was not an easy place to grow plants,” she said.

“He kept that facility together with duct tape and twine.”

Albright’s eldest son Abe and his daughters Beth and Margaret Albright also smiled at their memories.

“He is my hero, my inspiration,” Abe said.

“I’m trying to keep his plants alive . . . it’s harder than it seems.”

Were he here to see the greenhouse and the assembled crowd, “Dad would be just tickled. He would be so happy that you guys care.”

The new greenhouse happened thanks to the many who look forward to seeing the Elwha River flow free again, said Steve Tharinger, one of the three Clallam County commissioners.

Native plants are a basis for the ecosystem that supports the salmon’s life cycle, “a very elegant cycle,” he said.

The new center grew out of the need for healing and regeneration, he said, and that will “maintain this web of life here on the Peninsula.”

Healing the scar

Dave Allen, the Olympic National Park plant propagation specialist who will devote himself to the greenhouse, spoke of how the demolition of the two dams will also mean the disappearance of the Lake Mills and Lake Aldwell reservoirs.

“Imagine those basins, devoid of everything,” Allen said. “It will leave a huge scar.”

The scar will heal, he said, as native trees, shrubs and grasses take root.

“This is the starting point,” for that healing process, Allen added.

Like others at the dedication, Sue McGill, Olympic’s deputy superintendent, saluted the unpaid people who care for the wilderness.

“You don’t do anything in Olympic National Park without the help of volunteers,” she said.

The new greenhouse will also supply young plants for backcountry areas, roadsides and other places needing revegetation, McGill added.

And the park will continue to rely on volunteers to help get the work done.

Interested community members can learn more by phoning park volunteer coordinator Maggie Tyler at 360-565-3141.

McGill also hailed Clallam County, which is leasing the Robin Hill land to Olympic National Park for $6,000 per year, and Northcon Construction of Hayden, Idaho, which built the greenhouse for $358,000.

“I’m glad my dad’s legacy can live on,” said Beth Albright, “for generations to come.”

Sequim-Dungeness Valley reporter Diane Urbani de la Paz can be reached at 360-681-2391 or at diane.urbani@peninsuladailynews.com

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