By Ryan Murray
After more than a month without any measurable rain, the plants in Madison Park’s Beaver Lodge Sanctuary are thirsty.
So the area’s caretakers are asking for help.
Gene Brandzel, a Madison Park resident since 2008, helped bring the former dumping ground up to community standards with his wife Liz.
Wedged between the northeast border of the Broadmoor gated community’s golf course and a residential property, the 60-foot by 200-foot tract consists of a single tree-lined trail leading to the edge of Lake Washington, where a dock faces the beaver lodge from which the property gets its name.
This spring, the Brandzels and other residents planted more than 120 new plants in the green space, including 30 trees. The estimate was those new plants would need about 1,500 gallons a week in the summer to stay alive.
But that has changed.
“Because of the way our weather has changed, there are continuous drought conditions in the summer,” Brandzel said. “We asked the ecology department if we could set up a system to draw out of the lake and they said no. We couldn’t meet our needs by asking the neighbor to help either.”
So the Beaver Lodge Sanctuary is asking for volunteers to help water some of the plants most in need. Volunteers would sign up to draw a bucket of water from Lake Washington and water one of 33 thirsty plants at least once a week.
This “bucket brigade” supplements two converted milk tanks which store more than 1,300 gallons of water on elevated concrete blocks and drip irrigate several hundred feet of the sanctuary. Bill and Mary Ann Mundy donated the tanks from their farm near Cle Elum. The Madison Valley Community Council even gave the sanctuary $1,600 in grant funding for this year and the next to help pay for water, which the Seattle Parks Department Conservation Corps sells at a discounted rate. The sanctuary foundation installed the tanks just three weeks ago and quickly found the water estimate wouldn’t cut it for drought conditions.
Fortunately, there is a finite deadline for how long the group will have to continue hand-watering plants. The trees and shrubs are young enough that they need some assistance if they are to survive the next two summers, and nearly half of the highest-need plants have already been “adopted.”
“After then, the plants will be self-sufficient,” Brandzel said.
Until then, residents can donate to the Beaver Lodge Sanctuary via PayPal or by giving a check to Home Street Bank “for the beavers.”
While the area is now a slice of nature near the Arboretum, it wasn’t always the case.
Shortly after the Brandzels moved to a condominium around the corner from the lodge on East McGilvra Street, it was just an overgrown thicket owned by the Seattle Department of Transportation and used by the public as an illegal dumping ground for unwanted furniture and trash. Invasive blackberry, ivy, knotweed and holly choked out the native plants.
Brandzel estimated they took out “11 truckloads” of invasive plants from the site on their own. As neighbors saw progress on the site, they joined in the work.
The city graveled a path, added benches and 40 volunteers formed the Beaver Lodge Sanctuary Foundation to maintain the improved area.
“It gives residents the ability to return to nature, right here in the city,” Brandzel said. “It’s really become a major outdoor destination place, more so than anywhere else in the area.”
It’s also a place of respite for some local parents.
In 2015, a magnitude 7.8 earthquake rocked the Himalayan nation of Nepal. More than 8,000 died, including two 19-year-olds from Seattle, former Garfield High School students. Sydney Schumacher and Bailey Meola perished in the tragedy, but they are remembered with a copse of dogwood trees in the Beaver Lodge Sanctuary adorned with Tibetan prayer flags.
Brandzel shares this story to emphasize that this sanctuary is as the name suggests, a haven of peace in a busy city.
“This place has a personal interest to people,” he said. “It’s a special piece of nature in the city.”