Georgetown Campus Open Space Transformed Into a Native Urban Forest

Image of volunteers planting the Georgetown Community Forest at South's Georgetown Campus on February 10, 2024.

Over 130 volunteers came together on a Saturday, February 10, to transform an open space on the southwest corner of South Seattle College’s Georgetown Campus into a flourishing native forest.
Called the Georgetown Community Forest, the project is a partnership between the college, the non-profit SUGi Urban Forestry Project, the Duwamish Tribe, the Duwamish River Community Coalition and volunteers from the college and community.
For the heavily industrialized Georgetown area, the creation of an urban forest is a welcome relief from the fields of concrete that cover much of the land. The project site was once a gas station - the old Hat ‘n’ Boots station for history buffs - that left the soil mired with contaminants. Once established, the forest aims to heal the land and the people living on it. Over time, soil health will improve and biodiversity will thrive, improving air quality in a high-traffic area, enabling local people to breathe better while offering a calm space where they can immerse themselves in nature.
The planting event started with an opening ceremony on a surprisingly sunny day that was ideal for the work to come, and included words from Duwamish Tribal Councilmember Ken Workman, Executive Director of the Duwamish River Community Coalition Paulina Lopez, Marylee Jones of the Yakama Nation, Ethan Bryson, SUGi’s urban forestry project coordinator, South Seattle College Acting President Sayumi Irey, and Georgetown Campus Executive Dean Laura Kingston.
Dr. Irey and Laura Kingston welcomed everyone to the campus and thanked them for their involvement and support.
For Ken Workman of the Duwamish Tribe and great, great, great, great grandson of Chief Seattle, the project hit home in many ways.
“This is the land that I was born and raised on,” he shared. “So as the crow flies just right over there by South Seattle College [pointing to the west, toward South’s main campus] are the woods that I played in as a child, and right here where the Hat ‘n’ Boots station was, well these are the memories that I have as a small child. And if you look across the street at this building, well that’s where I worked in a lumber yard. So I am back home in Georgetown and this is the land of the Duwamish.”
“We are here today to plant an urban forest because it’s important to remember that out people, our Duwamish People, are part of this place.” Ken said. ”We recognize that the Duwamish People are part of this place, they are part of these trees, and by you being here today you are becoming part of us.  That we are all here together and that our DNA becomes the environment.”
Paulina Lopez with the Duwamish River Community Coalition (who’s mission is to elevate the voice of those impacted by the Duwamish River pollution and other environmental injustices for a clean, healthy, equitable environment for people and wildlife), shared that “We are bringing 1300 trees to a community with the lowest tree canopy in the city. We are also bringing trees to a community that has many environmental injustices.”
Marylee Jones from the Yakama Nation came to the event with her mother and daughter, representing three generations of indigenous knowledge.
“The work we are about to do today is good work, it is heart work,” Marylee shared, and encouraged volunteers to name their plants after important people in their life as they were nestled into the earth.   
With community and tribal leaders providing great insight into why this work was important, it was time to shift gears into the specifics of the project.
Ethan Bryson with the Urban Forestry Project shared that volunteers would employ the Miyawaki Method of planting, using natural, native vegetation that mimics how nature would have been without negative impact to the land.
“This forest you are creating is … like an urban acupuncture, like a needle that will radiate benefit throughout the community,” Ethan said.
At 11 a.m., it was time to start planting. Volunteers broke into four groups, planting in the four sectors of the forest’s medicine wheel shape. A tradition of the Miyawaki method, whenever a volunteer knew the species of the plant they were about to place in the ground, they would call the name out and other volunteers would echo it as a way to help everyone develop their plant identification skills.  Privately, volunteers had the option to heed Marylee Jones advice and name their plant after someone special in their lives.
When the dust settled, over 1300 plants were in place, representing 40 different species of native trees, shrubs and groundcovers.
Looking into the future, South Seattle College will be the lead steward of this urban forest, and there will be community volunteer events in collaboration with project partners to help with weeding and nurturing.
To check out the Georgetown Community Forest for yourself, visit South's Georgetown Campus at 6737 Corson Ave. S.