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Hylebos reflects couple’s love of nature

The Friends of the Hylebos, with help from more than 1,000 volunteers, has planted more than 80,000 trees and shrubs and preserved 410 acres in the West Hylebos Wetlands.

And 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. They will be recognized May 3 at the first Federal Way Hylebos Day, and a plaque will be dedicated to the couple.

The Friends of the Hylebos celebrates its 25th anniversary this year.

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.

“They loved their land,” said Lou Olmstead, a friend of the couple and founding member of Friends of the Hylebos. “They would go out there and see all their wild flowers and wild plants and they could name all of them.”

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.

At that time, hardly anyone knew what wetlands were, said Mary Gates, one of the committee’s founding members.

“Pave them, that was the concept,” Gates said.

Ilene Marckx first set out to convince the county to preserve the wetlands. But she was unsuccessful.

“They told her to go away,” Gates said.

State officials were more willing to listen — partly because of the efforts of Rep. Jean Marie Brough, who was also dedicated to preserving the Hylebos.

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.

Founding members of the Friends of the Hylebos said they aren’t surprised to see what’s become of Ilene Marckx’s dream.

“I knew that Ilene’s enthusiasm wasn’t going to stop with anything. She was going to do everything she can to acquire all the land around,” Olmstead said.

Gates said that the Marckxes had an amazing ability to envision the distant future and make an impact.

“These are people that had 50- to 100-year visions,” she said. “We maybe need more of these people that look that far ahead.”

Contact Margo Hoffman: mhoffman@fedwaymirror.com or (253) 925-5565.

Hylebos Day

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. A celebration will be held 2 p.m. May 3 at the West Hylebos Wetlands Park, located off South 348th Street near the park and ride. To learn more, contact Chris Carrel at chinook@hylebos.org.

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.

Source: Timeline provided by Chris Carrel, executive director of Friends of the Hylebos.

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