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Volunteers get a kick out of ‘leave the leaves’ project at east Vancouver park

As volunteers hauled piles of leaves into the park, siblings Elyse and Evan Scherer — 6 and 8 years old, respectively — waited to kick them around. That was just fine with the workers; in fact, it was by design.

“Your kids are doing great,” Steve Wille said to their mother, Andrea Scherer.

For the fifth year, volunteers with an adopt-a-park group gathered to spread leaves around Countryside Park, 15298 N.E. 7th St. The “leave the leaves” activity is part of an effort to rebuild the mulch layer that supports the park’s numerous towering trees and provide shelter for pollinating insects like moths, butterflies and bees.

“Leaves are valuable to the park. They’re valuable to the natural ecosystem,” Wille said. “The whole idea is to keep it a natural-looking park.”

Wille, a retired limnologist, heads the adopt-a-park group, which formed in 2012. Back then, the 2.3 acre park — featuring wooded, grassy and child play areas — was partially overgrown with invasive plant species. One of those weeds, the common burdock, was particularly uninviting due to its prickly flowers that easily stick to clothes, skin and hair.

“It’s like, you know, we’ve got to do something. We’ve got to clean up this park,” Wille said.

One of those things was “leave the leaves,” an idea that initially raised some eyebrows. Local governments, in an effort to avoid clogged storm drains and driving hazards, typically encourage residents to pick up leaves and dispose of them at various locations throughout the county.

“They freaked out when we first started doing this, like, ‘Why are you putting leaves in the park?’” Wille said of the city of Vancouver.

But the group has worked with the city, which left a 10-cubic-feet metal bin by the park for leaf disposal before the weekend. From there, the volunteers would remove the leaves, place them in wheelbarrows and recycling bins and take them inside the park’s natural area, where they would be spread.

Wendell Beck, who also lives in the Countryside Woods neighborhood, was a beneficiary of the program Sunday. He arrived with 10 garbage bags full of leaves, some of which he’d been storing for months. After taking up space in his home, the leaves became part of the park’s ecosystem within minutes.

“We got rid of these so quickly. How did that happen?” Beck said joyfully.

As Andrea Scherer raked a pile of leaves into a mulch layer roughly 2 to 3 inches tall, she said she enjoyed the opportunity to help her family’s neighborhood park and teach her kids about volunteerism.

“It’s just great on so many levels,” Scherer said.

Elyse and Evan, meanwhile, continued to frolic.

“I don’t think volunteering can get more fun than that,” their mother said.


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