Plans take shape for eastern Washington tribute on state Capitol grounds

The landscape feature should be installed by January, officials say. Planners are taking special care to ensure plants and trees used to dry weather will thrive in Olympia.

By: - October 16, 2023 3:21 pm
A meadow of Lupine and Arrowleaf Balsamroot flowers is seen at the foot of a Ponderosa Pine forest.

A meadow of lupine and arrowleaf balsamroot flowers is seen at the base of a ponderosa pine forest near Thorp, Washington. A new law could add a ponderosa pine and other eastern Washington trees to the Capitol grounds in Olympia. (Getty Images)

A ponderosa pine and a western larch, snowberry and camas, basalt rock columns and a bench made out of aspen wood. 

These elements are all part of a soon-to-be-installed landscape feature on the state Capitol Campus commemorating eastern Washington. 

The State Capitol Committee on Monday received an update on the new site, which came out of legislation passed last session to honor the “unique beauty of eastern Washington.” The landscape feature is on track to be in place by the start of the legislative session in January, Kailee Moulton, Department of Enterprise Services landscape planner, said Monday.

The feature will be located at the corner of Sid Snyder Avenue and the South Diagonal. The location was chosen because of its proximity to the campus’s main entrance, the amount of sun it gets and the ability of grounds crews to isolate the amount of water the area gets. 

Because eastern Washington is much drier than Olympia, controlling the amount of water the feature gets will be critical for the plants and trees to thrive, Brent Chapman, horticulturist at the Department of Enterprise Services, told the Capitol Campus Design Advisory Committee in August.  

The legislation establishing the feature was the work of eastern Washington Rep. Joel Kretz, R-Wauconda. When debating the bill earlier this year, Kretz told his fellow senators that eastern Washington flora and fauna do not have much representation on the Capitol Campus. 

An apple tree outside the entrance to the Legislative Building currently is the only representation of eastern Washington among the campus flora.

The law suggested types of trees that the feature might include – such as ponderosa pine, quaking aspen and western larch – some of Kretz’s favorites. 

But the bill intentionally included some flexibility on tree species to ensure the ones chosen can survive in the wetter and milder conditions.

Plans call for an aspen to be planted at a separate site on the campus – in the parking lot near the Governor’s Mansion. Aspen roots can spread rapidly, so it was important that the tree be planted away from other trees on campus. 

“We wanted to plant aspen but we were afraid of how aspen would take over,” Moulton said.

To fulfill the new law’s commitment to representing eastern Washington’s trees, the main landscape feature will still include an aspen bench. 

The tribute will also be built around a western red cedar that’s already in place. The cedar can reflect the changing landscape between western and eastern Washington, Moulton said. 

Preparation for the new site will begin next month.

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Laurel Demkovich
Laurel Demkovich

Laurel joined States Newsroom in 2023 after almost three years as a statehouse reporter for the Spokesman-Review. She covers state government, the Legislature and all other Olympia news.