We drove down Peace Portal Drive, looping through the roundabouts, and headed toward D Street. Mike Hill, in the driver’s seat, proudly pointed each and every spot along the road where he has cleared blackberry bushes. Hill, a lifelong resident of Blaine, said the prickly shrubs weren’t a problem in the city when he was growing up. His pride for the place he’s always called home was palpable as we continued to drive.
“We need to get this straightened out,” Hill said. “I mow wherever I can.”
For the past six years Hill, with the help of his two lawn mowers “Meatball” and “Mark,” has spent 40 hours a week cleaning up blackberry bushes and mowing grass throughout Blaine – for free. “Meatball” is an Italian, hence the name, remote-controlled lawn mower that easily cuts through blackberry bushes. “Mark” is more of a standard riding lawn mower, as the name implies.
Though Hill owns several properties in Blaine, including the Chevron gas station on Peace Portal Drive, much of the property he mows is owned by the city, WSDOT or private owners. After construction of the roundabouts, and other infrastructure around Blaine, Hill said much of the surrounding area hasn’t been well maintained.
“It would be like me bringing something to your house and never coming back for it,” Hill said. “That’s why I do it.”
Hill said he has always enjoyed mowing and spoke fondly of the first lawn mower he bought as a teen. It was a yellow General Electric riding lawn mower that he tirelessly waxed. Hill said his father encouraged him to buy equipment that he liked so that he would grow to enjoy mowing lawns – and it worked.
“I wouldn’t let anyone else ride it,” Hill said with a chuckle.
We kept driving, making a circle back to Hill’s Chevron next to Starbucks. As Hill continued to point out spots along the road that were now blackberry bush free, it was evident that he cared deeply about Blaine; there was barely any unruly landscape that he hadn’t touched along the route.
Before a recent round of blackberry mowing, the invasive plant had obscured views along the water, Hill said, adding that several nearby homeowners thanked him for bringing back their view. Hill plans to continue clearing bushes along the water and hopes the city will consider planting flowers along the roundabouts and overpasses, he said.
Hill said he has been in contact with the city and hopes to get together soon to discuss its plan for keeping Blaine beautiful. But for now, he’s happy putting the work in.
“This is our town and we’ve got to be proud of it,” Hill concluded.