News

They have a stream

By ERICA HALL

Staff writer

It was a cloudy, Northwest spring morning last week, and rain drops splattered onto the tiny leaves of young plants and the tines of elbow-high evergreens slowly growing in the verdant West Hylebos State Park.

The plants are the newest additions to the park, planted last fall by Friends of the Hylebos’ Stream Team volunteers — after a thorough removal of blackberry bushes — in the hope that eventually their roots will shore up the banks of the stream and and their branches will help re-vegetate the area.

During a working celebration of Earth Day this Saturday, the volunteers will be back at the park, taking an inventory of the plants to see how many survived the winter. Volunteers also will weed out unwanted growth, like the ubiquitous shoots of blackberry that already are tenaciously peeking up through the dirt.

Katie Moller, Friends of the Hylebos’ recently hired Stream Team coordinator, said there are more than 600 volunteers in the Stream Team’s database, and about 100 came out to each of the team’s various projects last year.

“The Stream Team is just awesome,” she said. “It’s an incredibly diverse volunteer base.”

The park, located a mile west of Interstate 5 off South 348th Street, comprises 120 acres of wetlands, streams and an array of wildlife, from plants like fungi and Douglas fir to amphibians, birds and fish.

A Federal Way couple donated the first 23.5 acres to start the park in the early 1980s, but it was another seven years before the Legislature approved funding for it. After state lawmakers officially named the land a park, Friends of the Hylebos, a Federal Way-based group formed to care for the park, raised the money to build and maintain a boardwalk and to preserve the wetlands.

Moller said the Stream Team has matured since its creation in 2000. Back then, Friends of the Hylebos “just wanted to let people know about the Hylebos,” Moller said.

Now that there’s a solid volunteer base, the Stream Team can delve into more complicated techniques, like soil and water flow monitoring and plant inventories.

Last year, the team planted 2,000 trees and shrubs on the Bingaman Pond wetlands, at the Birch Street culvert replacement, at the West Milton nature preserve and at the Brooklake Blueberry Farm.

Though the willow branch segments the team planted along the banks look like an uneven fence now, eventually they’ll grow into trees that will shade the creek, cool the water and provide nutrients when leaves and twigs fall into the stream.

The team installed 24 large, woody-debris structures in the creek last year to control water flow and to provide adult salmon with safe places to spawn and baby salmon places to hide and eat until they’re big enough to leave the stream.

The team also conducted 70 water quality tests at eight sites.

This year, the team will conduct water-quality tests — checking the temperature, flow and oxygen levels in the stream — as well as soil tests to check soil composition and moisture.

“Since we don’t have irrigation, it’s really important for us to know what areas are already wet,” Moller said.

The Stream Team also mounted permanent camera pedestals around the park that will allow them to create a permanent photo record and monitor changes in the park over long periods of time.

A lot of what the Stream Team does is a matter of trying something, seeing how it works, and then monitoring and tweaking it as the dynamic environment changes, Moller said.

Since last fall, when the volunteers planted trees and shrubs, some of the willow sticks have sprouted leaves and appear to be healthy in their creek-side home. But others didn’t survive, and the team now knows not to even bother with sticks smaller than an inch-and-a-half in diameter.

“Most restoration is experimental,” Moller said. “Ecology is incredibly complicated. Urban ecology makes it that much more complicated.”

Still, the Stream Team’s efforts appear to be working. Last fall, volunteer salmon watchers spotted 140 salmon who returned to the creek to spawn, according to Friends of the Hylebos. In addition to the coho, Chinook and chum, volunteers this year saw pinks entering the creek.

Moller said she thinks of maintaining the Hylebos like tending a garden.

“Because it’s an urban environment, and because there’s so much impervious surface, the disturbance caused by modified hydrology is going to be chronic,” she said.

In other words, the Stream Team’s work on the Hylebos will never be finished, but that’s not necessarily bad news to Friends of the Hylebos.

“There’s absolute value in what we’re doing,” Moller said. “This is our home. If we’re treating it in such a way that other creatures can’t live, that’s how we’re treating our home. And there’s always somebody downstream.”

Staff writer Erica Hall: 925-5565, ehall@fedwaymirror.com

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