Thursday, July 27, 2017 This Week's Paper

Work begins to preserve Schuster Slope’s urban forest

There once was a time, generations ago, when urban woods walkers could stroll from Stadium Way to Schuster Parkway without having to hack and slash their way through the brambles and berry bushes. Those days will be here again.

Tacoma crews will begin removing the invasive climbing vines and brush that threaten the health of the Schuster Slope green space. Work starts this weekend and will run Saturdays through October in an effort to rehabilitate the slope above Schuster Parkway, between South Seventh Street and Garfield Gulch, for potential restoration. One eastbound lane of Schuster Parkway may be closed as needed when workers are present.

“Basically, the vines are all wrapped around the trees” said Community Relations Specialist Alicia Lawver. “It is just infested with vines.”

This sloped, 20-acre area is a rare green space adjacent to downtown and Stadium District that has been allowed to be overgrown with climbing vines such as ivy and clematis that threaten to choke the trees. Left unchecked, the vines can smother and eventually kill the trees. The invasive plants also reduce the diversity of the forest, since they prevent the growth of the next generation of trees.

Crews will be cutting “life rings” around the base of the trees that will give the trees some “breathing room” and cause many of the vines in the canopy to die. That will reduce the extra weight on the trees and allow them to grow unhindered.

The Schuster Slope project is a collaboration of Tacoma’s Open Space and Urban Forestry programs and supports the City of Tacoma’s goal to increase its tree canopy to 30 percent by 2030. In 2011, a University of Washington study using 2009 data calculated the Tacoma tree canopy at 19 percent.

The vine clearing is the first step in addressing challenges for Schuster Slope, which used to be a popular walkway from downtown to Thea Foss Waterway. Additional actions will be planned to continue restoring the area as a healthy habitat. What was then called the Bayside Trails system opened in 1975, courtesy of federal grants to reuse the former train spur as open space. It once included five picnic shelters along 2.5 miles of trail, within a 20-acre greenbelt adjacent to Stadium District. The system provided a pedestrian link to the waterfront, public access to an urban green space, a recreational opportunity and views of the water. Today, most of the original trail system is closed to the public. During its 25 years of operation, multiple problems such as inadequate maintenance, soil erosion, illegal camping and criminal activity took their toll on the park and the nearby neighborhoods. City officials opted to close the trail system in 2000.

The $20,000 projected to be spent in this first phase of work is meant to buy time until longer-range plans are developed, Associate Planner Elliott Barnett said. The current roadwork along both Schuster Way and Stadium Way will hopefully provide inspiration for what happens to the green belt between the two roadways.

“We don’t want to create the same system so that we have the same problems,” he said.

Options include running trails or stairs between the two roadways instead of running the length of the park. But funding for maintenance will likely be an issue.