Watching the Parks District “Preserve” our Beloved Moritani Preserve is Hard to Observe When Reality Sets in

Like thousands of other islanders, we cherish our parks and trails. They are a wonderful escape and repose from the stress of everyday life.

We, too, realize that the parks and park lands are living, breathing organisms that sometimes require our attention. A case is in point is the beautiful Moritani Preserve, a nine-acre oasis of trees, trails and meadows, sandwiched between Winslow Way and Wyatt Way, just west of Downtown Winslow. The property was once owned by the Moritani family, who previously raised strawberries on the site and later planted trees to ostensibly create a tree farm, or so the story goes.

At least 100 trees were cut down and removed from the Preserve

Six or seven years ago, the land was purchased by the Fletcher Bay Foundation. It was cleaned up, heavily landscaped, and eventually deeded over to the Bainbridge Island Metro Parks District. At that time, a citizen committee was formed – The Friends of Moritani – to oversee the health and management of the forest and to raise funds for any future work on the site, if needed.

Under full disclosure, I was a member of the original TFM committee, and our home sits nearby on the edge of the park’s boundary. The committee spent a number of years analyzing the property, protecting a years-old apple an oak tree, and constructing a kiosk that shares the grounds fascinating history. Benches were installed, along with a number of pathways. And, at one time, a pollinator garden was planted.

Meanwhile, the committee, with help from the parks district, consulted with a number of forestry experts and eventually formulated a management plan aimed at measuring the health and longevity of the trees and the forest’s understory. There are a lot of invasive species growing on the grounds and the Parks District holds monthly volunteer weed removal sessions to help eradicate these.

Slash piles – necessary for restoration – but a bit ugly to look at

But at the heart of the committee’s work was a plan to thin the forest, removing weaker or dying trees and letting in more sunshine, so native species such as Snowberry plants could grow up. On paper the plan made sense, and our old committee (I rolled off of it two years ago) gave our nod of approval. Eventually,a  new committee handed the task over to Parks Naturalist Lydia Roush.

What we’ve since discovered is that what you see on paper is not necessarily the same as what you see in reality. The thinning that has been taking place over the past several weeks has left the Preserve looking a bit like a war zone. We counted at least 100 trees or more that have been removed. Scratch piles are everywhere – at least for the time being – and trucks, backhoes and bulldozers are moving and removing debris. The sound of chainsaws whirring has been a daily occurrence.

We’re not opposed to what the Parks District is doing, realizing that in the long run it’s probably a good thing for the forest. But watching it unfold up close and personnel, is another matter. To put it succinctly, it’s rather stark!

Downed trees ready to be removed from the property

“I agree with you,” says Amanda Nathan, who lives on the east side of the park and is the current President of the Friends of Moritani, “As a neighbor, it’s a big change. … (But) this isn’t going to look like this forever.”

To the Parks District credit, they have posted signs in key areas of  Moritiani announcing their intention.  One reads, “Thinning in Progress … Thank you for your patience as we work to restore this forest.”

It’s not so much the words as the watching. “A lot of trees (cut down) were dying or were close to it,” Nathan explains, noting that after analyzing its data, Parks personnel decided on “taking a more active role” in removing substandard trees, many of which were of the same species. “They decided (the Preserve) could take a heavier thinning. … Restoring it (the park’s stands of forest) is the quickest way” to complete that effort, she adds.

According to a small banner left on the Parks’ grounds, as a way of explaining the work underway, the Park District is following these set of guidelines:

To guide the restoration, the district developed a management plan that set parameters for thinning densities, replanting protocols, and invasive removal;

— Initial test thinning’s were conducted over several years to access the trees response to disturbance;

— A larger, more comprehensive thinning was planned to remove stressed, overstocked trees;

— A timber cruise was conducted to analyze the trees and determine which trees should be removed;

— Thinning efforts (are) focused on removing defective trees that were most likely to fail, (with the goal of creating) gaps and open space where new plants can thrive;

— Wood chips, logs, and branches are left on the forest floor to smother invasive species, and add nutrients to the soil, provide habitat, and improve soil moisture;

— Replanting will help diversity tree species, build a diverse understory and create structural diversity;

— Stay tuned as we continue our restoration work at Moritani Preserve.

It’s clear from what’s happened already with the restoration project that the Preserve is not going to look anything like it once did for quite some time. “There’s no magic wand to make it look good,” Nathan says. “We have to see what it looks like in five or 10 years. … The goal is to let in more sunshine into understory and rebuild a healthy forest.”

We get it, but …

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