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Merger adds muscle to conservation in Federal Way | EarthCorps joins Friends of the Hylebos

The 120-acre West Hylebos Wetlands Park can best be seen from the park’s boardwalk, which was installed by Friends of the Hylebos and remodeled in 2008. The park is located on South 348th Street, about a mile west of Pacific Highway South - Neal McNamara, The Mirror
The 120-acre West Hylebos Wetlands Park can best be seen from the park’s boardwalk, which was installed by Friends of the Hylebos and remodeled in 2008. The park is located on South 348th Street, about a mile west of Pacific Highway South
— image credit: Neal McNamara, The Mirror

Two forces have combined to enhance Federal Way’s urban wilderness experiences and overall quality of life.

Friends of the Hylebos joined EarthCorps in a partnership that’s expected to strengthen conservation and restoration efforts in Federal Way’s natural areas.

EarthCorps, which is affiliated with AmeriCorps and based in Seattle, mobilizes thousands of volunteers every year for environmental restoration projects. The partnership with Friends of the Hylebos makes sense in today’s economic climate, said Steve Dubiel, executive director for EarthCorps.

“The goals remain the same in engaging the community in its involvement with restoration,” Dubiel said. “There’s such a shared perspective and approach to conservation.”

The two organizations have worked together for more than 10 years, and the merger reflects the recession-era funding shortage for conservation efforts. Friends of the Hylebos lost 25 percent of its operating budget — nearly $125,000 — from King County, according to a June 2010 report.

At that time, the non-profit organization reduced its staff from 4.5 full-time employees to two; cuts included the executive director, restoration coordinator and administrative assistant positions.

The new group will operate a branch office at Dumas Bay Centre under the name EarthCorps.

In addition, the internationally-known EarthCorps will take on financial and bookkeeping responsibilities.

The group’s first project in Federal Way will involve the creation of an online map that allows web users to track restoration efforts at Poverty Bay, Dumas Bay and West Hylebos Wetlands. The project will be made possible by a recently secured $10,000 grant from the Washington State Urban and Community Forestry Program, Dubiel said. More projects will come.

“It gets you one step closer to your neighborhood park,” Dubiel said, noting that parks offer a connection to nature and are crucial to a community’s overall quality of life. Dubiel said that EarthCorps projects recruit thousands of volunteers in a network that spreads ideas for restoration to other communities.

Friends of the Hylebos formed as an all-volunteer group in the late 1990s, and has primarily focused on preserving the 120-acre West Hylebos Wetlands along with more than 535 acres of local open space.

Over the years, Friends of the Hylebos has helped plant more than 93,000 native trees and vegetation in the Hylebos Watershed. The organization also regularly leads efforts to remove invasive plants such as English Ivy and blackberry bushes at Federal Way parks. In 2008, the popular boardwalk at West Hylebos Wetlands was reopened following restoration work.

“Friends of the Hylebos and EarthCorps have a long history together working on projects,” said Federal Way resident Margery Godfrey, who will participate on a newly-formed advisory committee that guides the group on local endeavors. “All the stars lined up on this (partnership). It must have been meant to be.”

Check it out

The partnership will be officially recognized during the Federal Way City Council meeting at 7 p.m. April 5 at City Hall. To learn more about EarthCorps, visit www.earthcorps.org.

Click here to see a documentary titled "The Hylebos: Discovering a Hidden Jewel."

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