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Telling the Story of Hilltop Park Activation and Reimagination Project

The City of Burien’s Green Burien Partnership is working to shift the narrative around green spaces, with a specific focus on Hilltop Park, the only park located in the northeast corner of the city. Our approach? Engage the community in short-term and long-term decisions and actions to improve natural spaces.

Map showing the work area within the boundaries of Hilltop Park in Burien.
Map showing the work area within the boundaries of Hilltop Park in Burien.

The Hilltop Park Activation and Reimagination Project involves working with the community to remove blackberry plants, establish native plantings, conduct ongoing park improvements, and develop future park plans at Hilltop Park. Read the history of the project below.

Hilltop Park Story

When you walked through Hilltop Park in the spring of 2021, you would have noticed several things: forested areas, edible plants and fruit, a grassy field made for playing, and blackberry.

One of the patches of blackberry is where our journey starts.

Our mission is to remove blackberry plants and other weeds in order to restore harmony in this section of the park. Check out the before pictures below.

Forest.
Hilltop Park in spring of 2021 before restoration work began.
Forest.
Hilltop Park in spring of 2021 before restoration work began.
Blackberry thicket and open field in front of trees.
Hilltop Park in spring of 2021 before restoration work began.

Collaborative effort begins transformation

The first phase of the collaborative effort to transform this area began with Partner in Employment. The nonprofit organization provides work skills training programs to immigrant and refugee populations in King County.

People stand in field with gardening tools.
Participants at the kickoff event for the Hilltop Park Activation and Reimagination Project on June 5, 2021.

With funding from the Port of Seattle, Partner in Employment supported a group of youth interns taking part in a work skill training program at the park. The Partner in Employment youth interns hosted a kickoff event for the Hilltop Park Activation and Reimagination Project on June 5, 2021. During their 10-week internship, the group removed ivy and engaged community members in what they’d like to see in their local park.

People work in forested area to remove plants.
Participants at the kickoff event for the Hilltop Park Activation and Reimagination Project on June 5, 2021.

EarthCorps, a nonprofit whose mission is to strengthen the community and restore the health of our environment, began working in the park later that same summer. With funding from the Port of Seattle’s South King County Airport Community Ecology Fund, they brought in youth interns to brush cut 60,000 square feet of blackberry plant.

Following the brush cutting, Partner in Employment visited Hilltop Park with a new group of summer interns in July 2021 to take out more of the ivy and blackberry plants. These plants were removed because they stop the plants that have been in this area for millennia from thriving. Partner in Employment also prepared the site for EarthCorps to return for the next phase of work.

EarthCorps clearing blackberry plants at Hilltop Park in June 2021.
EarthCorps clearing blackberry plants at Hilltop Park in June 2021.
Cleared blackberry plants at Hilltop Park in June 2021.
Area recently cleared of blackberry plants at Hilltop Park in June 2021.

Turning a job into a career

City of Burien staff and landscape architects from Berger Partnership joined Partner in Employment one morning for a roundtable discussion with the youth. Topics covered included the type of planning it takes to implement a new park, how to turn their work as an intern into a career to support themselves and their families, and other career options that might be fun to consider.

Three youth interns doing restoration work in Hilltop Park.
Youth interns doing restoration work at Hilltop Park in July 2021.

It takes a village!

Partner in Employment and EarthCorps youth interns welcomed guests and partners during a meet and greet event on July 30, 2021. Port of Seattle Commissioners Stephanie Bowman and Peter Steinbrueck and former Burien Mayor Jimmy Matta were joined by City staff, local organizations, and neighbors to learn more about the work happening in the park.

The event started out with introductions. Partners engaged youth in conversation about Hilltop Park and career opportunities and expressed gratitude for the great work completed at the park. The youth then toured the commissioners and mayor around the work area.

EarthCorps and Partner in Employment visited the park several times in August 2021.

Elected officials attend meet and greet at Hilltop Park in July 2021
Elected officials attend a meet and greet at Hilltop Park in July 2021.

Green Burien Day results in 270 new trees

The groups worked side-by-side to hand remove ivy and prepare the restoration space for the second annual Green Burien Day, an event that brings together Burien residents, park stewards, partner organizations, and City staff to celebrate our urban forests by planting trees and removing weeds. Dozens of volunteers joined together with partners to plant 270 evergreen trees during the event!

Group of people watch a tree planting demonstration.
Participants at the 2021 Green Burien Day event in Hilltop Park.
Two people work together to plant a tree.
Participants at the 2021 Green Burien Day event in Hilltop Park.
Two people work together to plant a tree.
Participants at the 2021 Green Burien Day event in Hilltop Park.
Five young people in raingear pose for camera during planting event.
Participants at the 2021 Green Burien Day event in Hilltop Park.

Imagining a new future for the park

The Hilltop Park Activation and Reimagination Project goals are not just focused on improving the park, but also about inviting more people into the space to help imagine what the park could be in the future. The City invited sophomores and juniors taking classes through the Puget Sound Skills Center to share their thoughts and ideas. Staff walked the site with the youth and asked them to think about where the park is located and what kind of added features make sense. Their ideas were inspiring! Some of the suggestions included improved signage, paved nature trails for all abilities, and seating areas that feature a variety of edible plants.

Group of youth standing in a line in front of a tree in a park.
Sophomores and juniors taking classes through the Puget Sound Skills Center shared their ideas for improving Hilltop Park in December 2021.

Federal recognition for an innovative approach

On March 24, 2022, Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal held a press conference at Hilltop Park to launch her Climate Resilience Workforce Act. She met with EarthCorps’ AmeriCorps training crews to learn about the work they are doing in the park. They in turn heard from leaders including Evlyn Andrade, executive director of EarthCorps, Laura Watson, director of the Washington State Department of Ecology, and Burien Mayor Sofia Aragon on the importance of adapting to climate change and supporting under-resourced neighborhoods. The day ended with youth and professionals sharing with one another about personal career paths.

Woman speaks at lectern in a park with line of people behind her.
Two women talk to each other in a park with people standing next to them.
Woman speaks at lectern in a park with line of people behind her.

And the cycle continues!

Parks and urban forests need continued attention to thrive. During the spring and summer of 2022, thanks to continued funding from the Port of Seattle, EarthCorps youth interns teamed up with Partner in Employment interns to learn from each other. The interns weeded around newly planted trees and prepared the restoration area for fall events including Green Burien Day and participants in a new Hilltop Park Afterschool Program.

Group of youth stand in a park.
EarthCorps and Partner in Employment interns worked in Hilltop Park during spring and summer 2022 to prepare for fall restoration events.

Afterschool program gets youth outside

Hilltop Park Afterschool Program pays students from Glacier Middle School and local high schools to learn about plants, environmental restoration, park planning, nature art, and more! Students worked with the City of Burien Parks, Recreation and Cultural Services Department, King Conservation District, Partner in Employment, and EarthCorps staff to weed around the young plants planted the previous year, clear space for more plants to be planted later that year, and plant indigenous plants ready to go into the ground. Students said their favorite parts of the program were digging out giant blackberry roots, planting indigenous plants, and creating art from colorful leaves and other natural materials found at the park.

Two students removing blackberry plants.
Two participants in the Hilltop Park Afterschool Program remove blackberry plants.
Student in rain gear and gloves holds tree starts.
Participant in the Hilltop Park Afterschool Program with tree starts.
Student group posing outside in Hilltop Park.
Hilltop Park Afterschool Program students at Hilltop Park in November 2022.
Students use markers to draw on worksheets on a picnic table.
Hilltop Park Afterschool Program students participate in an activity at Hilltop Park.

Planting season begins in fall

And just like that, planting season was upon us again. Our annual Green Burien Day event kicked off the 2022 planting season. More than 40 people gathered to plant 240 indigenous trees, shrubs, and groundcovers across the 60,000 square feet previously covered in blackberry and other weeds. Combined with previous planting events, more than 500 native plants, including evergreen trees and edible shrubs, have been installed at the park.

Two people wearing coats planting a tree.
Two people work together to plant a tree during Green Burien Day on October 22, 2022 at Hilltop Park.
Large group poses under a tree for a photo.
Green Burien Day participants included community volunteers, the Partner in Employment youth interns, EarthCorps crew, Hilltop Afterschool Program participants, Green Burien Partnership Forest Stewards, City staff, and Burien Councilmember Stephanie Mora.
Tree starts in plastic containers ready to be put into the ground.
Green Burien Day participants planted indigenous trees, shrubs, ang groundcovers.

More public leaders celebrate the work

In March 2023, Washington State Commissioner of Public Lands Hilary Franz visited Hilltop Park to help celebrate the work and partnership that has happened at the park. She joined City of Burien Mayor Sofia Aragon, Highline Public Schools Chief Operating Officer Scott Logan, and students who participated in the afterschool program, in a media event where those involved in the project shared their experiences working together to enhance Burien’s parks and urban forest.

The program’s approach to fostering the next generation of environmental stewards, through partnership and inclusive practices, was praised as a model for other urban areas trying to grow and protect their urban forest.

“This is what happens when you empower people to make their communities more liveable, more sustainable, and healthier,” said Franz.

Youth participant delivers remarks during WA DNR media event at Hilltop Park on Feburary 24, 2023.
Youth participant delivers remarks during media event at Hilltop Park on Feburary 24, 2023.
Commissioner Hilary Franz addresses group during WA DNR media event at Hilltop Park on Feburary 24, 2023.
Commissioner Hilary Franz addresses group during media event at Hilltop Park on Feburary 24, 2023.
Yard signs in a park.
Signage telling story of Hilltop Park restoration work at WA DNR media event with Commissioner Hilary Franz at Hilltop Park on February 24, 2023.
Group photo during media event with Commissioner Hilary Franz at Hilltop Park.
Group photo during media event with Commissioner Hilary Franz at Hilltop Park on Feburary 24, 2023.

Maintenance work continues through fall 2023

And again, the work continues at Hilltop Park. New cohorts of EarthCorps and Partner in Employment youth training crews came to Hilltop Park in the spring, summer, and fall of 2023 to continue maintenance work within the 60,000-square-foot restoration area. The crews removed weeds that were growing back and threatening the health of the hundreds of young plants that had been planted at the park. In the fall, the EarthCorps AmeriCorps crew and Partner in Employment youth training crew joined together to meet each other and prepare the park for Green Burien Day 2023.

Hilltop Park visioning plan underway

In 2023, the Burien Parkes, Recreation and Cultural Services department began the process to develop a plan for the vision of Hilltop Park. Learn more about the Hilltop Park Vision Plan on Hub.

Group of six people with gloves and tools pose for the camera.
Youth cohorts at Hilltop Park in June 2023.
Group of people work together to plant a tree.
Planting at Hilltop Park in 2023.
Two people standing in the park and smiling.
Two youth cohort members at Hilltop Park in June 2023.
Piles of weeds and new plantings.
Example of progress made in Hilltop Park in June 2023.

Another successful Green Burien Day

We kicked off another planting season with Green Burien Day 2023. Over 45 volunteers, partner organization staff, and City of Burien staff planted more than 200 trees and shrubs indigenous to our region! This year’s Green Burien Day was a true restoration PARTY thanks to live music from Eli Rosenblatt and his band. This event was made possible through the collaboration of our partners, EarthCorps, Partner in Employment, and King Conservation District. Thank you to the Burien community who joined us to continue to plant the forest at Hilltop Park. The site has transformed significantly since work began in 2021, it is starting to look like a young, healthy forest!

Two people work together to plant a tree.
Volunteers at Green Burien Day 2023 in Hilltop Park.
People sit on the lawn and listen to live music.
Eli Rosenblatt and his band entertain guests on the grass at Green Burien Day 2023 in Hilltop Park.
Two people planting.
Volunteers planting at Green Burien Day 2023 in Hilltop Park.
Volunteers load tools back into van.
Volunteers load tools back into van following Green Burien Day 2023 in Hilltop Park.
New plantings in the ground surrounded by fresh mulch.
New plantings in the ground following Green Burien Day 2023 in Hilltop Park.

Updated November 16, 2023

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