News

Park's neighbors want it to go back to the birds

By ERICA HALL

The Mirror

Twenty-five years ago, the little stretch of pebbly shoreline tucked behind a small cluster of houses off Dash Point Road was intended to be a wildlife sanctuary. It was thought the heron rookery would be there for many years, and the hundreds of species of birds would always chirp the neighborhood awake in the morning.

After two decades of neglect, however, most of the birds have left, giving way to the parties, littering and racket that has moved into the secluded Dumas Bay Park.

Steven Schrantz, who lives near the park, said his interest in returning the park to its original status arose out of a neighborhood crime-watch meeting.

His neighbors were concerned about the park, which they could see was deteriorating. There was no security any more — the entrance to the parking lot was broken, allowing access around a gate no one ever closes, and there was no light in the small parking area.

Schrantz said people go to the park to sell drugs, to party and to engage in various kinds of criminal activity. His home was burglarized badly — police never found the burglars or recovered any of their things, leading him to install a $6,000 alarm system — and later, his car was stolen out of the garage. His neighbors have been burglarized, too, he said.

Schrantz’s family has lived in their house near the park for 25 years, back when the area was part of King County. He remembers his new neighbors approaching him just after he moved in to ask what he thought about the county developing the park as part of the Forward Thrust program. There was even talk of putting a marina there for boat launching.

Schrantz and his neighbors didn’t care so much for the county’s plan, which they thought was overly broad.

“In 1981, this park was set aside as a major undertaking,” he said, standing near the 16-car parking lot last week. “We wound up trying to minimize the impact to the environment.”

When the county was finished, the little patch of shoreline was designated a wildlife sanctuary, a haven for blue heron that nested and raised their young in the tall pines tucked back from the shore.

Schrantz said that in the 1980s, hundreds of different kinds of birds visited the park regularly. Hardly any are there today, he said.

On a recent day, a few crows and gulls circled in the drizzle, calling out to each other over the gentle waves that lapped at the shore where logs and driftwood lined the banks. Nearby, two ducks flapped up and away from the freshwater marshland where Joe’s Creek empties into the bay.

When the city of Federal Way incorporated and took control of the land from the county, the city installed a sign that reads, “Dumas Bay Park.” Schrantz and his neighbors want the city to replace the sign at the parking lot entrance to reflect the language on a second, smaller sign near the access gate to the gravel path that leads to the shore. That sign reads, “Dumas Bay Wildlife Sanctuary.”

“This is a beautiful little place,” he said. “One of the conditions of the plan by the Shorelines Management Commission was it was a wildlife sanctuary.”

National wildlife city

The effort to preserve or restore natural habitat to encourage wildlife isn’t exclusively focused on the city’s rustic areas.

City Councilman Jack Dovey said he’s interested in welcoming native birds and wildlife back to Federal Way’s parks and backyards through the Community Wildlife Habitat program, organized and overseen by the National Wildlife Federation.

Tukwila was the first city to become a certified Community Wildlife Habitat, which it did by meeting several requirements laid out by the National Wildlife Federation. Dovey said he’d like to see Federal Way try the same thing.

“I’m interested because we have been developing so much, and I’m getting a lot of calls wondering why trees have been cut down,” he said. “Landowners have every right to develop –– they own the land. You really can’t stop progress.

“I’m interested in fostering bird habitat to replace lost habitat from development. You can’t stop progress, but you can do common-sense, inexpensive things.”

Becoming certified through the national federation isn’t difficult, but it requires community will and volunteer involvement.

After a city identifies a team leader and puts together a team, the federation uses a point system to determine when cities, based on size, have reached their certification goals.

There are several areas in which to earn points, including participation of minimum numbers of residential households, public areas, workplaces and schools; educational and outreach efforts; community projects; and administrative organization.

Once a city is certified, it continues to complete yearly goals and provide annual updates to the federation, which provides assistance and guidance.

“It’s something everybody can participate in,” Dovey said. “It doesn’t cost a lot of money.”

Ultimately, the program doesn’t have to be difficult, and Dovey said it’d be nice to have the wildlife in Federal Way again. He said it’s “just kind of fun” to see the various birds, including quails, that visit his yard.

Birding could come winging back

Residents around the Dumas Bay site hope that by cleaning up the area, they’ll foster the return of some of the wildlife species that used to live in the area in the mid-1980s. If they do, the area could become a destination spot for bird-watching, a low-impact, lifetime hobby that recently has become a trend.

The Rainier chapter of the Audubon Society meets monthly at the Federal Way Senior Center and hosts several free birding field trips a month.

Thais Bock, a Rainier chapter member, has been birding at Dumas Bay for “many, many years” and has seen the shoreline go through a number of changes. “It’s a tremendous asset to Federal Way,” she said.

Bock said she doesn’t think there has been a great decline in the numbers of species that visit the area, though she did note the marsh was almost destroyed when houses were being built, after a landslide came down.

But many avian species still use the shoreline area regularly, spending a lot of time in the winter and then leaving to nest in the spring. There are a variety of ducks and waterfowl that use the shoreline and marshlands, and in the nearby woods, there’s “just about anything you can think of,” she said.

Migration brings “some wonderful warblers on their way to somewhere else,” Bock said. She added that during the spring and fall, the area is teeming with a variety of birds both native and from out-of-state and even out of the country.

Birding has been experiencing a renaissance the past few years, as people from a variety of backgrounds begin discovering the birds in areas where they live.

“There’s a hunger out there from people to relate to nature, which is where we all come from,” she said. “They just want to see things. There’s definitely much more interest.”

Back to Dumas Bay

It’s hard to say why all the herons abandoned the former sanctuary at Dumas Bay. Wildlife biologists note that some species of birds stay in a place for awhile and then just move on. Other local birders have suggested bald eagles pushed the herons out.

Bock said when the herons were there, they weren’t a very big colony. “There’s always a reason for their moving — food supply or predators,” she said. Which it was in this case is hard to know for certain, but a colony in Peasley Canyon also moved, and a large colony formed in Renton.

But Dumas Bay neighbors suspect something else has occurred over the years. “This park has become a sanctuary for the wrong kind of wild life,” Schrantz said.

The view of the bay at the end of the tree-lined gravel path is stunning –– a rare, rustic vista that recalls the time before settlers and cities, suburban sprawl, strip malls and traffic congestion. But the verdant ground is littered with broken glass. The face of an informational sign is missing, and graffiti covers the rust-spotted casing.

Park neighbors want more security at the park, and they want the Parks Department to boost maintenance to preserve the quality and natural environment.

They want the gates repaired so the park can be closed at dusk. They want new signs to reflect the park’s status as a wildlife sanctuary, to list the park rules, and to explicitly state the park’s hours. They want the bollards at the entrance to the gravel path replaced to prevent motorized vehicles and equestrians from getting onto the beach.

In addition, residents want a light in the parking lot, where people frequently park and engage in unlawful activities after dark. They want another garbage can at the site, and they want the park boundary markers replaced on the beach to keep park visitors from wandering onto private property.

So far, city parks officials have agreed.

Parks Department director Donna Hanson said the city will improve the parking area and re-install the bollards. Workers will make improvements this winter, she said, when they aren’t so busy with ball fields and maintaining high-use parks.

Improvements to the natural environment might coax some avian species back to the shoreline and marshlands. Improvements to safety and security might coax people there to check out the birds.

It’s hard to find a bad time to go birding in Washington, Bock said, though July and August tend to be quieter because the birds are nesting.

“All the seasons are so different,” she said. “Winter is excellent in the Pacific Northwest. We have fresh and saltwater, and we have all sorts of waterfowl.”

Bock said she became a birder by accident. “I always enjoyed just looking at them,” she said.

Her passion for bird-watching was sparked after she met someone from the Audubon Society and went on a birding trip to Lake Washington.

“I just was thrilled and came rushing home to look them up,” she said.

Bock traveled all over the United States, from the Dry Tortugas in Florida to Alaska, spotting different kinds of birds. But she said there’s plenty to see right here in Washington.

“When I started birding, I thought there wasn’t any reason to travel because everything is here,” she said. “There are more than 500 species in Washington.”

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

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