New plans for young Capehart Forest, where there once was asphalt

Originally published November 6, 2016

Volunteer stewards at Discovery Park have plans for two new trails at the Capehart Forest to provide protection for nesting birds, and access for the public. They also want to keep up a protective fence one more year — and are raising money to pay for it.

Forest-restoration steward David Hutchinson, left, and landscape designer Paul Broadhurst note key features of Capehart Forest in Discovery Park last week. (Logan Riely/The Seattle Times)

Forest-restoration steward David Hutchinson, left, and landscape designer Paul Broadhurst note key features of Capehart Forest in Discovery Park last week. The temporary fencing protecting the forest will be taken down sooner than desired if more funding can’t be found. (Logan Riely/The Seattle Times)

By Lynda V. Mapes Seattle Times environment reporter

A quiet parade of stakes in the ground is the first sign of a big dream taking root here: two new trails to provide public access through the city’s newest forest.

Just five years ago, this place was a rubble of concrete and asphalt, all that remained from a former military housing development. Today it’s a haven for nature at Discovery Park, Seattle’s largest.

David Hutchinson, a longtime volunteer steward at the forest, said the number of bird species there has soared from five in 2012, to 27 this year, including Cooper’s hawks, warbling vireo, Bewick’s wren, spotted towhee and even Washington’s state bird, the American goldfinch.

Birds, frogs and other creatures that all hide, nest and slink through the 30-acre Capehart Forest at Discovery Park would still be protected for one more year behind a temporary fence, under a plan hatched by volunteer stewards,

Meanwhile, two new trails would be built to guide foot traffic through the landscape once the fences come down for good in January 2018.

Today the forest includes a range of new landscapes: conifer groves, dense stands of willow, a grove of big leaf maple, and even a young Garry oak prairie, one of the rarest habitats in the Puget Sound region.

The idea behind keeping the fence up a bit longer, and establishing the trails is to guide foot traffic and discourage off-leash dogs that endanger the fledgling forest, Hutchinson said.

“Look at that, one step and it’s gone,” Hutchinson said on a recent walk through the planned new trail system. He pointed with caution to a Garry oak that had self-seeded and grown to an ankle high sprout.

Ground-nesting birds, such as savanna sparrows, also are vulnerable to disturbance, he noted.

Letting a spiderweb of so-called social trails get established instead — as is the case today in Discovery Park’s South Meadow — would fragment the habitat created at Capehart with years of work, much of it by volunteers, planting and watering and weeding the new forest.

It would also undermine a more than $11 million investment by the city to acquire the property, tear out old buildings and asphalt, as well as plant native trees, shrubs and plants.

City parks officials support the stewardship plan for Capehart, said Andy Sheffer, development and construction manager for Seattle Parks and Recreation. “We are all on board, we want to support the new synergy that is going on.

“Long term, if this is a healthier restoration site, it will require less operation and management for the long term; it’s a win-win for everyone.”

Seattle Parks will provide the woody debris for the edges of the trails, and technical assistance, he added

But proponents of the plan will have to raise their own money — $5,000 for the fence, for one more year. And about $150,000 for the trails, Hutchinson estimated.

Sheffer said the plan makes sense.

Backers of the plan are seeking donations now, most urgently to keep the temporary fence up. City funds for the fence expire at the end of the year.

Paul Broadhurst, a Seattle landscape designer who has donated a design for one of the two trails to the cause, said he is excited about what Capehart Forest is becoming. “This is a place of quiet refuge, a kind of marvelous back eddy for nature,” he said on a recent walk through the property.

A cleansing wind blew through the young trees as Broadhurst gestured to views across a meadow to Puget Sound beyond.

“There’s nothing else like it.”

Donations may be made to the Seattle Parks Foundation, choosing Capehart Forest in the drop-down menu on the Designation tab.

Lynda V. Mapes: 206-464-2515 or lmapes@seattletimes.com

http://www.seattletimes.com/seattle-news/new-plans-for-young-capehart-forest-where-there-once-was-asphalt/