Restoring Habitat in Your Own Backyard

Meandering the scenic, canopy-covered understory of the O’Donnells’ Normandy Park property, it is easy to forget you are in a residential neighborhood. It is also hard to imagine that less than five years prior the property’s stream banks, now lushly populated with native ferns, flowering shrubs, and young trees, were smothered by invasive English Ivy and Himalayan Blackberry. Through King Conservation District’s Urban Shorelines & Riparian Habitat Improvement Services, Ken and Lita O’Donnell have since transformed 14,800 square feet of their land into a native plant paradise.

According to Ken, their desire to restore local habitat and preserve their property’s stream, which feeds into Walker Creek, were major factors driving their restoration project.

“You can put in as much or as little effort as you want as an individual property owner,” Ken said. “I want to do what I can on my property to protect it.”

Restoring shoreline habitat through native planting not only provides shelter and food for wildlife but also helps filter pollutants from surface runoff water before it flows back into the Puget Sound. Additionally, native foliage provides shade to help cool stream temperatures for spawning salmon.

The ivy infestation also posed a serious hazard to the 100-year-old alder and coniferous trees on the property, which were being choked under the weight of the vines. The family sought out habitat restoration work to beautify their land as well.

“I also think it looks nicer aesthetically, much better than a huge monoculture of ivy or blackberry,” Ken and Lita’s son, Kieran O’Donnell, said.


In the fall of 2016, Ken first learned about KCD’s restoration programs through Normandy Park CityScene Magazine and was inspired to apply to have a project done on his property. The cost-share funded project was approved. In the spring of 2017, a Washington Conservation Corps crew showed up with tools at the ready to begin removing invasive foliage and planting 1,070 native plants along both sides of 270 feet of stream shoreline.

Kieran O’Donnell

Kieran, who was studying Environmental Science at the time, went on to join one of KCD’s Conservation Corps crews himself and is now serving a second term with KCD as an AmeriCorps Riparian Habitat Stewardship Coordinator. He assists with projects similar to that of his family’s property and, ironically, will be helping monitor and transition the maintenance of the project site this year.

“It gives you more of an appreciation for the work that’s being done when you’ve benefited from the same process,” Kieran reflected.

The O’Donnells hope that others will be inspired to restore habitat on their properties as well. Ken and Kieran say their family has been very pleased with the process and results of the project. They have recently been working on creating a trail to better enjoy the ravine.

“We couldn’t be happier,” Ken said. “We’re living in a forest!”


Check out KCD’s website to access free resources and services to help you best steward your land. If you are interested in receiving information on starting a habitat restoration project on your property, contact

Caroline Boschetto, KCD Community Agriculture Engagement Coordinator

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