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Deck the halls with boughs of South Whidbey State Park holly

Owen Rae helps his father, Ian Rae, and Ted Brookes trim a 10-foot tall holly bush at South Whidbey State Park. The boy will be joined on Dec. 7 by other students at Calyx Community Arts School, which is located in the state park.  - Ben Watanabe / The Record
Owen Rae helps his father, Ian Rae, and Ted Brookes trim a 10-foot tall holly bush at South Whidbey State Park. The boy will be joined on Dec. 7 by other students at Calyx Community Arts School, which is located in the state park.
— image credit: Ben Watanabe / The Record

Everything you need to create a holiday swag and wreath will be waiting at South Whidbey State Park this month, including the ever-present holly.

English holly, a vestige of an old industry on Whidbey Island and a decorative staple during Christmas, has taken root in the old state park in Freeland. The non-native species can be seen almost anywhere in the park — near campsites, along the trails, on the shoreline bluff. Volunteers and members of the Friends of South Whidbey State Park hope to change that with a first-ever Holly Day, a work party to clear the prickly, waxy plant from the area.

“The longer we let it go without doing anything, it will start to spread and cover native species areas,” said Park Ranger Kevin Lease.

By late November, more than 30 plants were marked with bright pink ribbon tags. Volunteers planned to mark as many as they could find within eyesight of the park’s high-traffic areas before the Dec. 7 event. Some of the bushes are small, easily snipped with a decent pair of loppers and some thick gardening gloves. Others as tall as 20 feet, however, will require a more industrial approach.

“They’ll take a chainsaw to cut down,” Lease said.

Holly Day was designed to be a win-win event for South Whidbey State Park. The grounds get cleared of a non-native species, and volunteers get to add it to their holiday decorations.

Most of the holly plants were stripped of their berries by birds and rodents, the original culprits which spread holly seed to the park, before the planned Holly Day. To make up for it, Sue Ellen White, member of the Friends group, said they will have bright red ribbon to adorn the swags.

Other elements for the popular holiday decorations will come from the park itself. Spruce branches, fir needles and pine cones were collected from the park’s forest floor so people can visit South Whidbey State Park, a hotspot in the summer, in the cool light of December.

Running from 9:30 a.m. to 1 p.m., the event will also include some hospitality, courtesy of the Calyx School, an outdoor-based program. Cookies and cider will be available while people craft the evergreen and holly decorations. Organizers said music would play, too.

Normally the rules at parks are to leave nature alone and not pack anything out. In the case of holly, identified as a weed of concern in Island County, the special work party day was approved by state parks managers, which allows people to come in and clear the park of the designated plant.

“It’s very invasive. It should be on the noxious weed list,” said Janet Stein, Island County Noxious Weeds program coordinator. “It competes with our native plants and can start getting pervasive in a lot of forest situations … You can be walking in almost any forest and find a holly plant.”

The event will go on, rain or shine, with only a strong wind storm canceling the work party.

Volunteers will not need a day-use pass or Discover Pass to park in the south lot.

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