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Mirror's Citizen of the Month keeps Hylebos pristine
In Dana Buck’s backyard she sees beavers, river otters and even one time, a bear. Across the pond behind her house is a coyote den.
But the only thing that scares her in her yard that she seeks to take special care of is the original sweet brier rose bush from pioneer Louisa Denny’s home in Illinois. “All I know is I’m not supposed to kill it,” Buck said.
For four years, Buck has been one of two caretakers of Federal Way’s West Hylebos Wetlands Park.
Buck and her family live on-site in a 4,500 square foot home, paying $500 in rent each month. The trade-off is the 15 hours, minimum, Buck must put into park maintenance, which is no problem for her.
“Because I love it so much, it doesn’t feel like a job,” Buck said.
Buck, 55, was named the Mirror’s Citizen of the Month for June.
“Dana’s enthusiasm and energy for the West Hylebos Wetlands is a great asset for this well-loved park,” Steve Ikerd, the city’s Parks and Facilities manager, wrote in an email.
The position of caretaker was recommended to Buck by a friend from church, she said. Though she had to persuade her husband to become a renter again, once the ball was rolling, the pieces fell into place and Buck was given the job, she said.
“When we first moved here, it was like we’d always been here — like we were supposed to be here,” she said.
Regular maintenance chores include mowing the grass, pruning trees, weeding, blowing leaves from the path, interacting with patrons and cleaning trash. Buck’s section of the park stretches from the entrance off 348th Street to the boardwalk within the park.
Buck’s work keeps the park beautiful and accessible, Ikerd said.
The city’s Parks Department also helps keep the park looking nice by taking care of the signs and providing resources for Buck to do her work, she said.
“Go talk to a few of the unsung heroes that take care of the other 1,000 acres of parks we have in our beautiful city,” she said. “They never get kudos for what they do.”
Buck’s goal is to make sure everyone has the same experience by making her work look natural, like she was never there, she said. Picking up trash and keeping the park clean also helps give everyone the same experience, she said.
“It bothers me to see the trash,” she said. “The first impression is everything.”
The 120-acre park is home to all kinds of wildlife, from bunnies and snakes to a barred owl and great blue herons, though visitors sometimes can’t be silent and still long enough to see or hear the animals, Buck said.
She sees wildlife from her windows and interacts with them on a regular basis — sometimes in comical ways. One day while mowing the lawn, a bullfrog jumped from the grass to Buck’s leg, to her other leg and finally into the pond, she said. Another day she watched a weasel take 15 minutes to drag a rabbit to its den, running for three feet then pausing to catch its breath before running three more feet, she said.
Walking through the park, people forget they are in the middle of Federal Way, she said.
“Once you get to the boardwalk you feel like, ‘OK, I’m lost.’ Then you go, ‘Oh, wait, no I’m not,’” Buck said.
Between the park and her part-time job in the health room at Lakota Middle School, Buck works eight to 10 hours every day of the week, but she doesn’t mind, she said.
“I thank the Lord every day. What more can anyone ask for?” she said, looking out the window over a grassy yard and pond framed by trees.
Buck was an outdoors girl growing up and her husband is a bow hunter, so caring for the wetlands is the perfect niche.
The wetlands, and the few buildings on the property, are rich in local history, and Buck strives to keep the park looking like it did in its glory days, she said.
“The park is beautiful all by itself,” she said. “All I have to do is maintain it.”
The park is also home to several collections of trees, including a few little orchards, which the public can gather fruit from during the season, she said.
When she isn’t working at the middle school or doing yard work, Buck enjoys spending time with her two grandchildren, her three children and doing outdoor activities.
Buck holds the position of caretaker indefinitely, renting the house from month to month for as long as she can maintain the park, she said.
The park is located at 411 S. 348th St.
Nominate a Federal Way resident for the Mirror’s Citizen of the Month by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.