Green Issaquah gets to the root of local conservation

Project leads to planting of more than 300 trees at recent event.

Volunteers gathered at Squak Valley Park to launch the planting season at the inaugural Green Issaquah Day on Nov. 4 — and the event concluded with over 300 trees planted at the park.

Green Issaquah Day was one of the 65 events the Green Issaquah team put on this year, and expected to be the largest event of the year, with 60 registered volunteers. However, due to bad weather conditions, 31 volunteers showed.

Issaquah’s Urban Forest Supervisor, Dan Hintz, said with the Green Issaquah Day event and the upcoming volunteer events on Nov. 11, Green Issaquah will have planted 2,000 trees in Issaquah this year.

Green Issaquah is a product of the City of Issaquah’s efforts to create a comprehensive plan for the maintenance, stewardship and restoration of the forested parks, which cover over 1,500 acres of the city.

Issaquah has a history of forest restoration projects, Hintz said. The city has undertaken land acquisitions, habitat restoration and volunteer efforts since the 1990s.

“It’s certainly something that’s been slowly built upon,” Hintz said. “There were certain people that would come to the city, you know, kind of leave and kind of add on to it.”

Green Issaquah Day. (Photo courtesy of the City of Issaquah)

Green Issaquah Day. (Photo courtesy of the City of Issaquah)

Hintz said in the past, decisions on what sites to work on were often impromptu. In 2018, a goal was created from the park’s strategic plan to find a way to formalize priorities in the city park system alongside volunteer engagement.

The strategic plan guided the development of Green Issaquah in 2019. With funding from the City of Issaquah and King Conservation District, the City of Issaquah and Forterra — a nonprofit organization that works with communities to create land-based solutions with climate and large-scale impact — formed a partnership toevaluate the existing city-wide community stewardship efforts and the health and condition of the Issaquah forested parks and natural areas.

Through this assessment, a 20-year implementation plan was created, with the help of the American Forest Management. This plan meticulously combs the findings, goals and implementation strategies across three categories: field, community, and resources.

With these efforts and funding, Green Issaquah joined the Green Cities Network with 14 other cities making similar environmental efforts. These cities span King County, Pierce County and Snohomish County.

The Green Cities Network aims to join with cities to restore and steward more than 13,000 acres of parkland, according to the 20-year implementation plan.

Although the Green Issaquah staff continues with Green Cities Network quarterly meetings, Forterra has since taken a step back. Despite their absence, the City of Issaquah stepped forward and grew Green Issaquah internally.

The City of Issaquah has since built a Green Issaquah team led by city staff, with some positions added last year for the Green Issaquah program.

One of the first Green Issaquah partnerships was with the Mountains to Sound Greenway Trust, which has been working on ground restoration in Issaquah for decades.

However, many active community groups in the city have since followed, including Issaquah Alps Trails Club, Lake Sammamish Urban Wildlife Refuge, Mountains to Sound Greenway Trust, Snoqualmie Tribe Ancestral Lands Movement and Trout Unlimited.

Green Issaquah also partners with schools, businesses and volunteers to implement the 20-year plan.

Hintz said creating this team has added a lot of capacity to the internal city program.

This expansion has shown success in numbers as the program rounds its third year since its inception.

One of Green Issaquah’s 2023 goals, guided by the 20-year plan, was to reach 2300 volunteer hours. Hintz said the team surpassed this goal — hitting 3000 hours — and with more volunteer events planned before the end of the year, this number will only continue to rise.

While Green Issaquah and its partnered community groups initiate many volunteer events, Green Issaquah includes a supplemental program including a Forest Stewards Program. This program trains volunteers to become their own volunteer event leaders and project coordinators.

Forest stewards are provided training in ecological restoration and work closely with Green Issaquah city staff to learn how to lead a volunteer restoration event in parks or natural areas identified by the Green Issaquah assessment, according to Green Issaquah.

“You know, some of [the forest stewards] like to work individually, they might live across from a park and just want to kind of go out there for a little bit after work or something,” Hintz said. “Some people love to actually lead their own small little teams, either people from their network, or we’ll help recruit volunteers.”

The goal in 2023 was to add 10 stewards to the program; Hintz said Green Issaquah met that goal exactly.

Green Issaquah’s driving force is to restore and enhance land and habitat with as many hands on deck as possible. However, Hintz said making the events educational is just as important.

Many times I get people who ask “’Hey, in my backyard, I have this, what should I do?’,” Hintz said. “We have a lot of acres of public land in Issaquah, but it’s still primarily privately owned, in terms of our forests and trees.”

With private property covering 44% of Issaquah forested, according to an assessment, Hintz hopes volunteers and forest stewards can take some of that knowledge back to their homes.

Hintz said providing the educational aspect gives people context on the efforts they are making while volunteering, which he believes is more impactful than solely reading or talking about these environmental efforts.

“We want to be very available and transparent around the time and effort we’re putting into this,” Hintz said. “I think it’s very much about getting people’s hands out in parks and kind of learning about some of the history here and that a lot of this work certainly didn’t happen by accident.”