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Top environmental leaders gather to plant Ruth Kees grove

By Celeste Gracey
Issaquah Reporter
For winners of the Ruth Kees award, there couldn’t be a better honor than a tree planted in their name, or for Ruth Kees herself, a better memorial to what she worked for.

“A tree says you have faith that humanity can survive,” said Kenneth Konigsmark, a recipient, as he shoveled dirt around the base of an evergreen tree.

Ten trees, the first in the memorial grove, were planted at Squak Valley Park South, which is in the middle of an extensive restoration.

The Arbor Day project brought out the area’s top conservationists, many who had won the Kees environmental award. They had little qualms about squashing about in thick mud and planting their own trees.

“When we’re long gone, let’s hope these trees are still thriving,” said Joanna Buehler, also a recipient of this year’s award.

The park, a few miles out of downtown on the Issaquah-Hobart Road, butts up against Issaquah Creek.

A levy was built along the stream to straighten it and prevent flooding the road and the eight acres that’s now a park.

The idea of restoring the former farm land to its natural habitat came in the late 1990s when the Army Corp of Engineers began looking for ways to offset problems caused by the Ballard locks, said Kerry Ritland, the city’s surface water manager.

In the past year, the city tore down parts of the levy to allow the creek to meander and the park to flood. A few added logs created pools and riffles, ideal for spawning fish.

The city pulled up blackberry bushes and other invasive plants with the help of Mountains to Sound Greenway, and then planted about 6,000 native plants.

“For the last 10-15 years, the city has an active program to purchase open space so they don’t get developed,” Ritland said. “It’s part of a long-term strategy.”

While the changes are good for the natural habitat, they’re also good for downtown Issaquah. By slowing down flood waters up stream, it could help prevent some flooding in the city, he said.

The city’s parks department is working with Boy Scouts to build a walking path through the park that would also help connect the park’s play space to downtown.

Near the recently named Kees Creek, the park is a fitting choice for a memorial grove, Konigsmark remarked. “Ruth’s vision wouldn’t have been a tree planting in the city.”

Shovel in hand, Buehler agreed. “I think she would have liked this.”

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