TUMWATER - State Department of Transportation regional landscape architect Bob Barnes is retiring this week, but his work will go on living for decades.
In his 33-year career, Barnes was responsible for the planting of more than 1 million trees and shrubs, working tirelessly on both state highway and community projects.
He designed and installed landscaping for the Interstate 5 freeway and interchanges through the Olympia area and, in his spare time, served as adviser, organizer and planter for countless native plant restoration projects, including the McLane School and Woodland trails.
“He’s kind of the Johnny Appleseed of the community,” Lacey City Manager Greg Cuoio said. “Talk about a can-do attitude – he’s done a marvelous job.”
About 60 co-workers and community members gathered to celebrate his career and community work Wednesday at DOT’s Olympic Region headquarters in Tumwater.
“The joy in my career has been working with all the community groups – Eagle Scouts, schoolchildren, garden clubs,” Barnes, 61, said.
“Bob has probably done more good for the people of Thurston County and our environment than anyone else I can remember,” former Secretary of State Ralph Munro said via e-mail prior to the ceremony.
Munro, a McLane-area resident active in area beautification projects, couldn’t be at the ceremony Wednesday. He’s at Providence St. Peter Hospital, recovering from lengthy open-heart surgery Dec. 14.
But he talked to Barnes on Wednesday and, along with other members of the McLane School Forest and Trails Committee, announced plans to name a wetlands site along the trail “Barnes Bog.” The two signs to be placed there in honor of his work on and around Evergreen Parkway, the U.S. Highway 101-Mud Bay Road interchange and the McLane Trail were presented to Barnes on Wednesday.
Barnes also took the time to explain the origin of his love of native plants, landscaping and habitat restoration.
The son of a Blackfeet Indian, Barnes grew up one block from Woodland Park in Seattle and had an early appreciation of nature.
His degree in landscape architecture from the University of Washington in 1974 led to a career with DOT. He came to Olympia in 1984 to work on the Olympia freeway expansion project, emphasizing native, drought-resistant vegetation for the freeway rights of way.
“When you drive along the Olympia freeway, it looks prettier every year,” DOT engineer and co-worker Kevin Dayton said.
Approachable and positive, Barnes has made countless friends in the community who have heeded his advice on vegetation projects.
“He taught us how to do it right,” said Jack Horton, president of the Woodland Trail Greenway Association. Where the association planned on planting 100 trees and shrubs along the east-west trail through Olympia and Lacey, Barnes said make it 15,000.
When Barnes’ landscaping crew moved to DOT property on Mottman Road in 1992, Barnes built an award-winning nursery, relying in large part on native salvaged plants and partnerships with the Native Plant Salvage Project, the federal Natural Resource Conservation Service and conservation districts in the Olympic Region.
Among the prized progeny at the nursery are seedlings from the 1854 Medicine Creek Treaty tree. The aging Douglas fir marked the site of the treaty signed on the banks of McAllister Creek in the Nisqually Valley. It was spared demolition when Interstate 5 cut through the Nisqually delta in the 1960s, but was declared dead in 1979. The snag was struck by lightning and destroyed in a December 2006 windstorm.
In retirement, Barnes plans to start his own landscape design and construction firm, learn how to brew beer and spend more time salmon fishing.
“I’m not going anywhere,” he said. “I’m going to have more time to plant more trees.”
John Dodge: 360-754-5444 firstname.lastname@example.org