“The time is always right to do what is right.” – Martin Luther King Jr.
While championing civil rights, Martin Luther King Jr. was also a strong advocate for environmental justice. In honor of MLK Day of Service 2019, over 30 dedicated volunteers came ready to work to help restore valuable habitat for wildlife in the Union Bay Natural Area (UBNA) at the Center for Urban Horticulture. UBNA is a small patch of wilderness among a sea of urban development just east of the University of Washington’s Seattle campus. However, UBNA was not always a natural area dedicated to the conservation of birds, plants and various wildlife. For over 40 years, the area UBNA now occupies was a municipal landfill known as the Montlake dump. And underneath the mounds of toxic trash? A previously thriving wetland habitat. It was decided in the 1920s that the “unusable” area of this wetland habitat on the shores of Lake Washington would serve a better purpose…. a dump. Unaware of the importance of wetlands for biodiversity, nutrient cycling, carbon sequestration and flood mitigation, the public was encouraged to dispose of all kinds of waste directly on top of the marsh vegetation. But in the 1960s new hope was in store for the wasteland created…
After public outcry over the toxic gasses being released into the air from the waste, the landfill was closed and capped starting in 1966. There was subsequent debate over the best use of this open area, until the University Arboretum Committee proposed to use this area as living laboratory for ecological restoration. Since then many habitat restoration projects have been carried out by students and faculty from UW. The MLK volunteer work party that occurred on January 20th, was part of this ongoing effort to restore wildlife habitat. Volunteers helped to reclaim space and resources from invasive weeds that have taken over the capped landfill and plant native vegetation. In total, volunteers helped to remove over 300 pounds of invasive Himalayan Blackberry, Rubus armeniacus, and plant over 50 native plants including 15 conifer trees that will grow to provide habitat and help shade out the aggressive invasive species. While the history of UBNA is disheartening, there is hope in the community dedicated to reversing some of the damage done. And as Martin Luther King Jr. said “The time is always right to do what is right.”
Want to get involved in the good things happening in the Union Bay Natural Area? Check out our calendar of events to sign up for the next restoration work party!