Bleachers become garden beds on JBLM

By Cathy Hamilton-Wissmer, JBLM Directorate of Public Works on December 27, 2022

JOINT BASE LEWIS-McCHORD - Restoring the South Sound prairie after training maneuvers is key to continued training. On Joint Base Lewis-McChord, the Integrated Training Area Management team performs that task.

During the fall, a new garden was started in a defunct set of bleachers overlooking the Artillery Impact Area. Planting the new garden will continue throughout the winter.

This area is being repurposed to become potential seedbeds for native prairie plants. OP-8, as the area is called, is the best viewing spot in the training areas to see an unobstructed view of Mount Rainier.

The bleachers were built to host large numbers of ROTC cadets during summer training events. They also have concrete "rooms" for watching tank maneuvers when tanks trained on the open prairie landscape prior to 1960. Sometime after that, the bleachers lost their purpose, fell into disrepair, were overcome with invasive blackberry and other noxious weeds.

Then a willing team of Forestry, ITAM and other JBLM Environmental staff stepped in to see how it could be reused. Repurposing the concrete structure as seed beds is a win-win.

"This project serves several objectives," said Sally Jones, ITAM program manager. "It promotes sustainability range awareness as we are planting native plants; we can use this as a seed source and a demonstration garden, and it is a prime spot for stopping on the VIP route.

"It will need to be self-sufficient, no weeding, no watering - just as when we repair training areas."

Using compost from Earthworks to fill the areas, directly benefits the plants with a rich, soil mixture. The JBLM Directorate of Public Works Environmental Division makes compost from woody waste and pre-consumer food waste. It takes about 20 yards of compost to fill each bay and bleacher area.

Planting has already begun with two beds filled. One with fescue and native grass mix, the other with fescue and yarrow mix.

"At some point, we plan to plant more forbs and flowers," said Leif Wefferling, Range and Training Land Assessment coordinator. "Forestry has been conducting prescribed burns along the forest edge to restore oak woodland, near the AIA. These seeds can potentially blow in to assist in restoring that area."

The cooperative efforts with DPW Environmental, Land Rehabilitation and Maintenance and ITAM move the needle on JBLM's long-term sustainability goals to maintain the ability to meet current and future military missions without compromising the integrity of natural and cultural resources, both on the installation and regionally.