News of Madison Valley

The Harrison Ridge Greenbelt: A History of Community Activism, Chapter 3


Previously, in the first two chapters, I presented an overview of our neighborhood’s successful effort to save the wooded hillside along 32nd Avenue East from development. First, in the 1960s, the community rallied together to prevent an ill-advised low-income housing project from being built. Then, twenty years later, the neighbors again banded together to block the construction of houses in the green space. The financially stable City of Seattle was able to purchase the property in question under the law of eminent domain. It was the first time that eminent domain had been utilized to acquire property for the specific purpose of maintaining green space in the city. Now that the community had its wooded hillside, it was up to the residents to maintain the site.

In 1993, a committee was formed within the newly resurrected Harrison-Denny Community Council (the prior name of the present MVCC) to apply for grant money and carry out a reforestation project. The group, lead by Jerry and Peggy Sussman, received a Department of Neighborhoods Matching Fund Grant for $13,000. With the money, they began a project that spanned two years.

To begin, the committee hired landscape designer Blair Constantine. Blaire surveyed the area and drew up the plans to restore the 6 1/2 acres of land. The woods had been used a dumpsite for generations. In the summer of 1994, students were recruited from the area’s schools as paid workers to clean up. Volunteers from the community pitched in too. Huge amounts of debris such as old tires, car parts, and abandoned appliances were pulled from the land. Truckloads of invasive ivy and clematis as well as other vegetative waste were cleared. The Parks Department provided trucks and hauled away all the debris. The volume of detritus was astonishing!

In the summer of 1995, after the previous year’s cleanup, five hundred conifers, native plants and shrubs were purchased and planted within the newly cleared woods. Arborist Paul West from the Parks Department oversaw the planting and worked among the volunteers. These plantings occurred after two years of very arduous work. The next several years brought new volunteer work parties to the greenbelt to maintain the baby plants. As the trees and shrubs began to thrive, the community rejoiced.

In late 1995, the Council applied for and received another grant concerning the Greenbelt. This Small and Simple Grant outlined a two-part effort to educate the community about the Greenbelt.

The first part concerned the publication of the spiral booklet, “City Woods”. “City Woods” was a locally set story of native trees and plants with a brief history of how the Harrison Ridge Greenbelt was saved. It included illustrations of different plants as well as drawings of historical images.


city woods


Volunteers from the neighborhood did all the art and writing; only the printing costs were paid from the grant money. One thousand copies of the first edition were printed. A second printing, including some new illustrations, soon followed. The booklets were sold for $5 each in local bookstores and at community events.

The second part of the grant concerned the development of a curriculum to teach about local history to the students of Martin Luther King Jr Elementary School. For eight weeks, volunteers came to the classrooms of grades K-5 and taught about the woodland history of the region and the identification of plant life. Three hundred copies of the “City Woods” booklet were gifted to the school.

The next chapter will describe our current efforts to continue reforestation and about local student involvement in learning about urban forestry.


Topics: Beautification, Nature