Hylebos documentary pays homage to Federal Way's ‘hidden jewel’

Federal Way resident Mary Longhurst created a documentary about one of Federal Way's most treasured gems.

"The Hylebos: Discovering a Hidden Jewel" is an 18-minute film that explores the history and conservation efforts related to the West Hylebos Wetlands in Federal Way.

She was inspired to make the documentary during the city's first Hylebos Day in May 2008, which coincided with the re-opening of the park's boardwalk. Longhurst wanted to convey the vision of the late Ilene Marckx, whose work formed the foundation for today's Hylebos watershed conservation efforts.

"A little light went on and I thought, there's a story that needs to be told," said Longhurst, who completed the project as a graduate student at Antioch University in Seattle with help from a 4Culture grant. "I lived and breathed Hylebos for a long time. I'm just enthralled with the place."

Longhurst's film premiered Feb. 6 during a gathering co-sponsored by Friends of the Hylebos and Historical Society of Federal Way.

"Our two organizations have always shared a common goal of preserving natural and cultural history in Federal Way," said Chris Carrel, executive director of Friends of the Hylebos. "The idea of saving the Hylebos Wetlands started as one person's dream that transformed into a community's goal."

City council member Jeanne Burbidge called the documentary "another milestone for our community." "The Hylebos is a vital source of emotional and spiritual refreshment," she said.

Gerry Knutzen of the historical society praised Longhurst's film for its thorough examination of the Hylebos as well as the vision of Ilene Marckx.

"We want to do some more programs like this," he said.

Watch the video

Check out "The Hylebos: Discovering a Hidden Jewel" documentary online at

Hylebos history

It all began with the dreams of a zealous Federal Way woman and her husband.

The late Ilene and Francis Marckx founded the group that would later become Friends of the Hylebos. Back in 1955, the Marckxes bought a large plot of land that is now part of the Hylebos boardwalk. Years later, they discovered impressive wetlands and wildlife living on their property. Pondering the beauty of the land and worrying about increasing development in the area, Ilene and Francis decided to do something to preserve the wetlands. They gathered about 10 friends and people from both political parties and started the West Hylebos Wetlands Committee, which would later become Friends of the Hylebos.

The committee held its first meetings in the Marckxes' living room. The first duties included persuading state officials to make the wetlands a state park. The Marckxes donated 24.5 acres of their land in 1981 to what would soon become a state park. The state acquired more land throughout the years, and in 1991, a ribbon cutting ceremony was held for the West Hylebos State Park. It was declared a "natural area" and development was prohibited.

Today, the park is nearly 120 acres and is owned by the City of Federal Way. Tens of thousands of people visit the park each year, and it has been recognized as one of the state's top nature areas.

Learn more

The Federal Way City Council declared the first Saturday in May to be Hylebos Day in Federal Way. Annually, the city will recognize this day as a chance to appreciate the Hylebos Wetlands and the efforts of Friends of the Hylebos to preserve and restore 745 acres of the Hylebos Creek. Friends of the Hylebos was created 25 years ago by Federal Way residents and leaders. To learn more, contact Chris Carrel at or (253) 874-2005.

Hylebos timeline

Early 1970s: Ilene and Francis Marckx discover the wetlands.

1978: Hylebos is given protected status as a “sensitive area" by King County.

1980: First meetings of the Federal Way Community Council’s West Hylebos Committee.

1981: Ilene and Francis win the Washington State Ecological Committee award for work on behalf of the wetlands.

1982: Marckx family donates 24.5 acres to Washington State Parks and Recreation Commission with provision of property reverting back if the state hasn’t allocated money for additional purchases by 1985.

1983: The Marckxes and supporters form the nonprofit Wetlands of West Hylebos Inc. (initially named Friends of the West Hylebos Wetlands).

1984: Hylebos is the number one project in state parks new acquisitions budget category.

1987: State Legislature approves $296,000 for property acquisition and park development.

1991: State parks ribbon cutting ceremony for Hylebos park.

2004: West Hylebos Wetlands State Park transferred to the City of Federal Way and becomes the West Hylebos Wetlands.

2008: The first ever annual Hylebos Day is celebrated in Federal Way.

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