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March 28, 2023

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Volunteers use grant to continue efforts at Countryside Park in Vancouver

By , Columbian Assistant Metro Editor
Published:
3 Photos
Skip Paynter, from left, Joan McConnell and Steve Wille, residents in the Countryside Woods neighborhood, look at a woodpecker hole in a tree March 8 at Countryside Park in Vancouver. The neighborhood association obtained a grant in November from the Vancouver Watersheds Alliance to purchase native plants for the park.
Skip Paynter, from left, Joan McConnell and Steve Wille, residents in the Countryside Woods neighborhood, look at a woodpecker hole in a tree March 8 at Countryside Park in Vancouver. The neighborhood association obtained a grant in November from the Vancouver Watersheds Alliance to purchase native plants for the park. (Photos by Ariane Kunze/The Columbian) Photo Gallery

Residents who have helped to maintain Countryside Park over the years would likely call it a labor of love. And now, with the help of a local grant, these same volunteers hope to get others just as excited about the neighborhood’s park.

The Countryside Woods Neighborhood Association adopted the park about three years ago — at a time when the city didn’t have much money to maintain all of its parks. “If we didn’t, nobody would,” said Joan McConnell, chair of the neighborhood association.

“It’s kind of a pride-of-ownership thing,” added Steve Wille, who’s been heading up much of the work in Countryside Park. “We’re proud of our little park.”

He said the 2.3-acre city park is unique in that it offers a shady forested area, an open field and walking paths, as well as a developed area that houses a play structure for children.

Parents in the neighborhood have come out with their children, McConnell said, to study some of the wildlife and plants in the park.

But ownership of the park has at times been a battle for the neighborhood association.

The main issue is combating invasive plant species, such as burdock — a prickly plant that often gets stuck in socks or dogs’ fur. Plant overgrowth also caused safety concerns for police patrolling the area because they couldn’t see through the park, Wille said.

A regular group of about 10 to 15 neighborhood volunteers helped cut down the overgrowth and removed much of the burdock. However, they then discovered other invasive plant species, including toxic, woody nightshade, shiny geranium and English ivy.

“Part of it is public education,” Wille said of identifying the native and non-native plant species in the park. “(Residents) have been very supportive of what we are doing here, and it gets eyes watching around the park.”

‘Proud to live here’

Over the last few years, volunteers have put about 500 hours into cleaning up and maintaining the park.

“(The park) builds up the community and makes people proud to live here,” said Skip Paynter, who regularly volunteers with his family. He added that upkeep in the park also encourages residents to keep up on their own properties.

Maintaining the park, however, has been no easy task.

Wille said once the invasive plants are removed, they often grow back in a few years. It’s become a vicious cycle, he said.

That’s where the Vancouver Watersheds Alliance grant comes in.

With the $1,500, the association has purchased native plant species, such as ferns, vine maple and dogwood. They will be planted in groupings to help revegetate bare patches created by the removal of invasive plants. Clumping the plants together allows sightlines in the park to maintain public safety, Wille said.

One of the association’s goals is to establish a secondary understory of vegetation, Wille said, to provide habitat for local and migratory wildlife, such as birds.

The city has installed temporary irrigation lines to assist with the new plants’ growth. The neighborhood association plans to have plaques made and placed near the plant groupings so visitors can learn about what’s there.

“Kids can get some education out of it,” Paynter said.

There also are plans to lay down wood chips for walking paths on the perimeter of the park.

“We want (the park) to last a long time and be representative of what’s in our area,” Wille said. “We want to maintain it and clean it up so it’s not trashy and rugged-looking.”

The neighborhood association will host a Vancouver VolunTEEN program April 28 in celebration of Earth Day, during which time volunteers will come out to plant. Local high school and Clark College students will help out from 3:30 to 5:30 p.m. in the park. The association hopes to attract a few dozen volunteers.

Wille plans to give a presentation on plant species during the event.

The neighborhood association in its March newsletter said it hopes to soon have a second grant in hand to continue its efforts in the park.

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