Fort Worden volunteers plant Garry oak trees at state park

Friends group takes on habitat restoration efforts in many areas

Friends of Fort Worden volunteers work on habitat restoration.

Friends of Fort Worden volunteers work on habitat restoration.

PORT TOWNSEND — The Friends of Fort Worden State Park have plans to plant Garry oak trees in December, as the group adds habitat restoration to its volunteer efforts.

Beginning Saturday, for example, the Friends will plant 20 native Garry oaks along Mule Barn Road and in Chinese Gardens with the help of furniture maker Kevin Reiswig, according to a press release from Friends volunteer Gary Larson.

“Just imagine these historically significant trees, with their spreading form and dark green canopy, gracing the sloping meadow of Chinese Gardens,” said Friends board member Terry LeLievre, who helped select sites for the new trees.

Reiswig, who will lead the project as a new member of the Trail Team, has a source for the 24- to 36-inch-tall bareroot trees. Friends member Judith Bird has also donated a 9-foot-tall potted Garry oak.

Garry oaks are native to areas in Western Washington, but the population has declined to less than 15 percent of what it was before 1850. There’s a small mature stand on Indian Island, and scores more have been planted along the Indian Island Trail.

“Besides their iconic form, Garry oaks are favored by wildlife,” said Friends board member and birding enthusiast Janine Anderson.

“Their abundant acorns are enjoyed by many birds and mammals, and their leaves and bark play host to a variety of insects.”

Since its beginning in 1993, volunteers with the nonprofit Friends of Fort Worden State Park have worked to maintain trails, control invasive plants and install wayfinding and information signs.

A “test run” that began last year along Battery Way East on the park’s Artillery Hill launched a new habitat restoration component.

Typically, volunteers for the Friends Trail Team join monthly work parties or smaller weekly groups or work individually to remove invasive nonnative plants such as English ivy, poison hemlock, Himalayan blackberry, scotch broom and English holly.

In December, Friends volunteers plan to install more than 100 more native plants in cleared areas along Battery Way West and Madrona Trail. The new plants will include salal, snowberry, ocean spray, sword fern, Oregon grape and baldhip rose.

The Friends are recruiting volunteers to join or lead restoration projects or to “adopt” areas slated for restoration, said Friends board president Mitch Freeman.

As with all its projects, the Friends got permission from Washington State Parks to plant the trees, Freeman said.

The test run for native plants on Artillery Hill followed the task of removing English ivy from the slope above Battery Way East near Memory’s Vault. That work began last fall and continued through the winter, Larson said.

With the ivy cleared, restoration of the slope with native plants began. Numerous groups and individuals joined the effort with the Trail Team. More than 100 natives were planted initially, and more were added during the spring.

“Regular watering of the plants also began and became critical after the summer drought set in,” Larson said.

“Friends volunteers had to use a cumbersome, time-consuming watering system, but luckily there was very little plant loss.”

In 2023, the Friends plan to buy lightweight irrigation equipment to replace the heavy 250-gallon portable tank and high-pressure hose intended for firefighting.

“Given the positive response to the new plantings,” Freeman said, the Friends began evaluating adding native plantings to other areas of the park, “assuming we can raise funds needed for more restoration efforts.”

Another restoration effort began in September and October near Battery Putnam. Work parties cleared away dead poison hemlock canes and other debris.

In October, the Friends managed hydroseeding of the hill with a blend of native grasses that thrive in the Pacific Northwest, they said.

“We hope the hydroseeding will reduce the likelihood of the poison hemlock reestablishing there,” LeLievre said.

Besides weekly small-group work parties during 2022, the Trail Team in mid-November focused on Scotch broom along Mule Barn Road, where it was making a comeback.

And a December work party is expected to tackle either Scotch broom or European dune grass near Point Wilson.

A team of “Holly Hunters” worked all year on removing English holly from the park.

“Many large and small specimens of this prickly invasive are scattered throughout the park, often on difficult-to-reach slopes,” Larson said.

“As with other nonnative flora the Trail Team endeavors to eradicate, seeds found in the festive red berries of English holly are ‘planted’ in the park by birds and small mammals that have consumed the fruits.”

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