Blackened soil and dead trees are vivid reminders of the wind-swept fire that burned 360 acres of Riverside State Park last summer.
In heavily traveled sections of the park - on the Centennial Trail and Aubrey White Parkway - and along its steep slopes, park planners have a plan to repair fire damage sooner, reduce risks and diminish the potential for future destruction.
Almost 2,000 trees were destroyed, and in some areas, the stands will be left for wildlife habitat. Little will be done by humans except to watch and learn.
The restoration began last summer when the soil conservation district gathered pine cones from the park and planted 50,000 seeds in a greenhouse. Those will be transplanted in burned areas in the spring of 1996.
A crew of four college-age employees with the Washington Conservation Corps began reseeding snowcovered areas of the burned land in December. The seeds were absorbed into the ground and will sprout a few months from now.
Next week, state prison crews will start clearing heavily wooded areas and create a 50-foot defensible buffer between the park and suburban tract housing.
Eventually, there will be a sale of downed timber, with the revenue, perhaps $80,000, going to the restoration effort.
“Most of the work is being done to prevent a future catastrophe,” said Terry Patton, an environmental planner for the Parks Commission. “We are trying to break up the fuel load, especially toward the residential areas.”
Already, 96 hazardous trees along Aubrey White Parkway and another 180 along the Centennial Trail have been cut. Branches have been trimmed and dispersed to reduce fire risk.
Other trees along soft hiking trails have been examined and marked for logging. In the less traveled areas, any trees wider than 20 inches in diameter are being left as they pose less risk of toppling during wind storms.
In all, some 20 percent of the burned trees, about 700,000 board feet, will be removed by the logging company which receives the state contract, said Patton.
The reseeding work is being done by four employees of the Washington Conservation Corps, who are working in the park for $4.90 an hour.
It is one of many projects they have undertaken during six-month stint in the state park. Others include new gates, fencing and equipment buildings.
The crew’s first priority was to reseed steep slopes to prevent erosion.
“We’ve concentrated on areas most susceptible to erosion, along both sides of the river throughout the burn area,” said Ken Rimmer, a supervisor with the conservation corps.
So far, 165 pounds of seeds - a mixture of native grasses - have been placed over 38 acres.
Despite the work plan, Patton said 15 acres near the origin of the fire at Nine Mile will not be logged, seeded or replanted, just left alone.
“If anyone wants to do a good study on forestry revegetation after a fire, it’s a good opportunity,” said Patton. “Call us and we’ll set them up.”
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