by Kirby LindsayOn Monday, April 26, the garden staff of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has scheduled to plant 40 poplar trees along the Lake Union Ship Canal –what the Corps refer to as the Fremont Cut of the Lake Washington Ship Canal. These will replace 29 poplar trees the Corps had removed in March and early April of 2010.
Phase II Progress So Far
In a four-phase, thirty-year plan to entirely replace the historic colonnade of poplar trees along the canal, this planting comes as a mid-step in Phase II. This phase began with the tree removal last month, and will finish this fall, according to Andrea Takash, Public Affairs Specialist for the Corps, with planting of approximately 400 plants and shrubs, to serve as understory to the poplars.
Understory plants along the Canal serve a variety of purposes including erosion control, pest control and wildlife shelter. They had hoped to be able to engage the public in planting the poplars, they still expect to invite the community to help plant the understory plants sometime in the Fall.
Tree removal required closure of portions of the Burke-Gilman Trail along the northern side of the canal. According to Takash, the plantings, to be done over the next week or two, will not close the trail. The trees, already 10 – 12 feet tall when planted, and typically grow 2 – 3 feet per year, will be planted by hand. Each one will take the crew of three about two hours to fully plant.
In 2018, when these trees have grown and, hopefully, flourished, Phase III of the Canal Restoration will require removal of 19 poplars, with the planting of 23 replacements. The final phase, in 2030, has 22 poplars scheduled for removal, with 21 being planted.
Back In the Beginning – Phase I
This extended plan to replant the colonnade, in four phases, came after a fairly bitter public process and evaluation, begun in 1999. The Corps operate the Hiram M. Chittenden Locks and maintain the Fremont and Montlake Cuts. They announced, at that time, that trees needed to be removed due to disease and age. Strong feelings against tree removal came out against the plan, as did suspicion that development, specifically construction of sections of the Quadrant Lake Union Center, had led to a decision to remove the trees.
Phase I of the replacement occurred in 2001, with removal of 22 poplars and planting of 53. Of the trees removed, some were found to be severely diseased. Trunks had been eaten away from the center outward by disease, leaving hollow husks of trunks barely standing. Trees removed this year, during phase II, have not shown evidence of this disease, and gardeners from the Corps, including Michelle McMorran, check routinely on the trees and work hard to maintain them. The species of poplar being removed have lived beyond their natural life span.
Now the Corps will see that the blank sections where trees recently stood filled in with younger, healthy trees – ready to provide shade, oxygen and a return to the lovely vista of the Canal. More importantly, the trees, installed with gator bags for watering, will continue to receive the careful scrutiny and knowledgeable skill of gardeners like McMorran to see they flourish just as those that went before.
©2010 Kirby Lindsay. This column is protected by intellectual property laws, including U.S. copyright laws. Reproduction, adaptation or distribution without permission is prohibited.