The good, the bad, and the bloody at Charlotte’s Blueberry Park

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Better than really frugal prices, Charlotte’s Blueberry Park, located in southeast Tacoma at 7402 E. D St., offers its freshest berries absolutely free. While that proves you can save money thanks to whatever grows on bushes, watch out! There’s a tangled mass of prickly European blackberry vines hiding amidst the blueberries and there are also other dangers that can suddenly pop up – out of the blue – like an occasional wasps’ nest (there was one the size of a football at knee level in the middle of the blueberry bushes found last Sunday). So berry pickers are advised to remain extra cautious at the old blueberry farm so as not to get poked, stabbed or stung.

The Good

Charlotte’s Blueberry Farm has paved walkways around the outskirts of the blueberry bushes that make pushing a wheelchair or stroller super easy. While the pathways between the berry bushes are not paved, there are so very many edible foods growing from that uneven soil – fruits that are yummy enough to inspire anyone who can walk to sneak into the bushes.

In addition to blueberries, visitors can also find blackberries, Oregon grape berries and some surprises. Horticulturalist Marcie Griffin identified the orange berries growing from what looks like trees amidst the blueberry plants as “the European Mountain Ash. Sorbus acuparia – it’s a Roan tree,” she said.

Also connected to this park is a wooded area where visitors can take an easy walk down the various foot trails that lead into cooler and shadier areas with native plants like ferns, vine maple and Salal growing under fir trees.

Charlotte’s Blueberry Park is such an unusual attraction, with all its free food and unique landscaping. Visitors there on Sunday, July 30 seemed to come from far and wide proving what a desirable destination point Charlotte’s Blueberry Park truly is. On that day, the berry pickers were from Seattle, Puyallup, Port Orchard, Lake Tapps, Colorado and Guadalajara, Mexico.

The Bad

Honeysuckle grows intertwined with the blueberry plants at Charlotte’s 20-acre blueberry park. While honeysuckle flowers are beautiful and there’s no danger from drinking the nectar from flowers, the same food from which bees and butterflies thrive, honeysuckle berries can give anyone who eats them a real bellyache.

Thanks to information found on numerous websites, honeysuckle berries can also reportedly cause vomiting, diarrhea and rapid heart rate. Fortunately, the variety of honeysuckle found at this park have red berries that are easy to distinguish from blueberries so they’re easy to avoid.

Also easy to avoid are the orange  European Mountain Ash berries. “In manufacturing, mountain ash is used as an ingredient in marmalade, stewed fruit, juice, liqueur, vinegar and in tea mixtures,” states WebMD, a trusted on-line source for health and medical news.

Yet not so easy to distinguish from the sweet blueberries are the blue Oregon grape berries. Berry picker John Post, from Puyallup, pointed out such a plant that grows wild beneath the taller blueberry bushes where he picked. He wondered what kind of plant had such spiny lobed leaves that look very much like holly leaves.   

Oregon grape berries are edible but unless you have a sweetheart nearby with whom you’d like to pucker, don’t eat one raw because it can taste very sour. Like mountain ash berries, Oregon Grape berries are best used for making jelly.

The Bloody

On Sunday, July 30, many blueberry pickers had bleeding forearms after getting attacked by blackberry vines that sprung out from hiding behind blueberry branches. According to Community Outreach and Special Projects Coordinator Richard Madison, Metro Parks has four full-time natural resource staff who do fantastic work. Yet they are responsible for maintaining all of the natural areas within Metro Parks, not just Charlotte’s Blueberry Park.

Picking up the slack is a volunteer maintenance program, organized by Metro Parks Tacoma. “The blueberry work parties meet the fourth Saturday of every month from 9 a.m. to noon,” said Madison, who spearheads the program through Citizens Helping Improve Parks (CHIP In!).

Judging by the current state of affairs, however, more volunteers are desperately needed and according to Madison, Metro Parks would love to have more volunteers come out in work clothes and help maintain the blueberries with the tools that Metro Parks provides them. Volunteers who want to help clean up Charlotte’s Blueberry Park may e-mail chipin@tacomaparks.com.

Beyond the park, and into the residential neighborhood, Sandy Wakin lives where her well-groomed back yard butts against the blueberry park. She has lived in her home since the 1960s and admits to seeing many changes in the neighborhood over the years.

Like complaints publicly voiced by other neighbors at local council meetings, she’s seen a dramatic increase in homeless folks around the park. Neighbors from surrounding houses have been panhandled in their own yards when out mowing or tending to their gardens and Wakin herself said “yes” when a disabled man asked to plug in his wheelchair at her home.

Wakin also mentioned the unsightly nuisance created by abandoned grocery carts from Fred Meyer that get left in the park and on the surrounding streets. She feels it was probably a blueberry park vagrant who broke into her large shed, which is very close to the park and harder to gain access without being seen from the street.

Other neighbors share her concerns for safety and regularly notice piles of garbage left around the park. The abandoned grocery carts in the neighborhood are often filled with trash and litter left by people who seem not to have any vested interest in the neighborhood, which negatively impacts their streets. Yet Wakin said that deciding who to call when there is a problem at the park is not easy to determine because while the Tacoma School District still owns some of the land around Charlotte’s Blueberry Park and Metro Parks owns another section, there’s no readily accessible blueprint detailing exactly who owns what.

The Future

Fortunately, Public Information Officer Michael Thompson said Metro Parks has been proactive about talking to members of the community and he said they are well aware of residential concerns.

“We have been working with community partners to make the park better,” said Thompson. Metro Parks staff have met with the South End Neighborhood Council and Harvest Pierce County and made presentations at Friends of Charlotte’s Blueberry Park meetings.

According to Thompson, projects that are now on the calendar for a completion date in May 2018 include a new community garden that is being installed at Charlotte’s Blueberry Park. That garden will include a new water connection, trail linkage to the garden, added trash receptacles, new benches and a playground nearby for children to enjoy.

The History

According to the Metro Parks’ website, the Berg family, who ran Berg’s Blueberry Farm from 1952-68, were the last private owners. In 1968, the Tacoma School District bought the entire farm but after neighbors argued that the wetlands were not suitable for school development, it traded some of the property with Metro Parks. The blueberry farm is now named after Charlotte Valbert who founded Friends of Blueberry Park and signed the first official CHIP In!. Valbert died in 2010 at age 82.

For more information about Charlotte’s Blueberry Park, go to metroparkstacoma.org/history-charlottes-blueberry-park.

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