CWU gives new purpose to fallen leaves

Central News Watch

Joseph Stanger, Staff Reporter

It’s fall, which means it’s time for the leaves to float down from their branches and end up all over walkways, streets and in the gutters. But, instead of leaving them to decompose, become slipping hazards, kill the grass and get stuck in storm drains, CWU collects the leaves to serve a more important purpose.

“It makes great fill for when we’re doing a new planting area,” CWU Grounds Supervisor Blair McNeillie said. “We facilitate a lot of our small projects with that material.”

The process of collecting the leaves has become a yearly routine for CWU’s groundskeepers.

“It all gets swept up or picked up or raked up in some fashion and we take it to a big composting area north of 18th close to Brooklane village,” McNeillie said. “We just compost all the material and generally that’s used back on campus in the form of some sort of mulch. We might mix it in with some sort of wood compost and make a mulch product, or it turns into topsoil over time.”

McNeillie said the school picks up about 150 to 170 cubic yards of leaves each year, which is used to make a few hundred yards of topsoil.

“We don’t have to pick up every single [leaf] or anything like that, we’re not trying to make it perfect,” McNeillie said. “Some of the leaf material goes back in the ground and it’s good compost as it is.”

McNeillie said this year the leaves came down faster than normal due to rain and wind. Usually, in November, there would be more leaves still on the trees.

“Usually, the sooner they come down the better, so we can get them all cleaned up,” McNeillie said.

In Ellensburg, the city has asked its residents to properly dispose of their leaves and yard debris by either using compost bins provided by Waste Management or taking their yard debris to the Kittitas County Solid Waste Ellensburg Transfer Station. There, residents can drop off their yard debris for a small fee, which gets grinded and turned into compost and mulch, which can be purchased at $60 per ton.

Ellensburg resident and professor of Philosophy, Cynthia Coe, said she collects around 25-30 large garbage bags of leaves and debris from her yard each year, which she stores and eventually empties into her compost bin. She said that even though they require a bit of work, the leaves serve as a nice reminder of the changing seasons.

“I used to live in Vermont, where leaf season was a big thing. People would travel to come see the leaves changing on the hills,” Coe said. “We don’t quite have that here, but it’s just nice to have that sense of summer being over and winter coming.”

Coe said she’s lived in places where residents can simply rake piles of leaves on the curb where they’re sucked up by a vacuum on a truck.

“That’s convenient, but I think it’s probably a good thing that you have to rake up leaves because they can clog drains and stuff like that and create hazards,” Coe said. “But composting is a way to make them … do some work even after they come off the tree.”