Tacoma Open Space Program Highlights

By Dan Enbysk

Volunteer restoration at South Ash St. working to turn around a neglected urban open space.

EarthCorps’ Tacoma Open Space Program coordinates volunteer environmental restoration projects at ten different sites throughout the city. These sites range from forested upland areas, to a rehabilitated salt marsh, to urban wetlands, as well as other parcels of open land. In 2020, a new site, South Ash St. was added as one of the program’s active restoration sites.
South Ash St. is a 4-block long urban corridor in Tacoma’s South End stretching from S. 92nd St. to S. 96th St. The site has a large diversity of native species, including some species not commonly seen in Tacoma, such as fawn lily and blue elderberry. This site was at risk of being taken over by invasive species, such as Himalayan Blackberry, therefore, restoration was needed to start bringing the habitat back to a healthy state.

Volunteers planted native plants this past December at South Ash St.

The South Ash St. has also had a challenging and troubling history. Vegetation on the site has been damaged, litter was previously spread all through the site, and people would start fires and sometimes participate in illegal activity in the surrounding neighborhood. The site has also experienced significant illegal dumping. Despite all the negatives, “It has been our experience that activating a space through restoration reduces illegal activity and can enhance the site in beneficial ways for the neighborhood, “ says City of Tacoma Environmental Specialist, Aris Efting who oversees the city’s Open Space Program.

Beginning last March, the city’s Washington State Conservation Corps crew began work trimming back invasive and native vegetation to open sight lines across the site to improve safety. Several sweeps have significantly reduced the amount of litter and trash on site. Between last August and December, EarthCorps held four work parties to begin volunteer restoration.

Led by habitat steward Lloyd Fetterly, volunteers began removing blackberry and other invasives and in December, the first volunteer planting event took place. Over 70 plants were planted, including low Oregon grape, Snowberry, Nootka rose, Kinnikinnick, and Blue elderberry. The South End of Tacoma lacks green space relative to some other areas of the city, therefore restoring this site can provide the neighborhood with a safe outdoor amenity.

Helen B Stafford Elementary School is another resource in the neighborhood, and ultimately, the city would like to see students use this space for educational opportunities. “This is a real opportunity to not only restore an urban open space but also restore a valuable neighborhood asset. We want it to become a space the neighborhood can take pride in once again and be able to enjoy what it has to offer,” says Tacoma Open Space Senior Project Manager, Dan Enbysk. “We know when volunteers come together we can make a difference and we hope to see more volunteers come out and be a part of the positive change taking place at South Ash Street.”

For upcoming events at South Ash St. and other Tacoma Open Space sites, visit our volunteer page.