Hylebos Day celebrates conservation goals

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If you are looking for me today, you know where I can be found: The West Hylebos Wetlands.

Today, May 3, is a double treat for the park and its many fans. The park’s grand re-opening will occur this afternoon and today is the first Hylebos Day in the city of Federal Way.

First, let’s get the important details out of the way. The ribbon cutting ceremony runs from 2 to 2:30 p.m. this afternoon. After that, the Friends of the Hylebos and the city are co-sponsoring a boardwalk open house.

If you’ve been a thousand times or haven’t been yet, today is the day to come. The park’s parking lot is small, so there will be a shuttle service from the park and ride lot on South 348th Street.

The re-opening is an important official ceremony. I say “official” because the park has been open to visitors since February, when construction of the new wetlands boardwalk was completed.

Using my highly advanced public relations reasoning, though, I argued that a February opening ceremony would be too cold and rainy.

Little did I know what our spring had in store for us. A few days ago, I was wondering whether we’d be better moving the opening to August…in Phoenix. But it is a wetlands, so despite whatever weather you’re seeing when you read this, we are holding the official ribbon cutting ceremony today at 2 p.m.

At the re-opening ceremony, King County Council member Pete von Reichbauer will help us dedicate a plaque to the park’s (and the Friends’) founders, Francis and Ilene Marckx. The Marckxes’ foresight and dedication are the reason Federal Way still has this jewel of a wetland preserve in its own backyard.

It was in their own backyard that Francis and Ilene discovered the forested bog wetlands in 1971. They and a few fellow Federal Way-ers founded the Friends 25 years ago to spearhead the struggle for the wetlands. Eventually, after donating more than 30 acres of their own property to the cause, the Marckxes saw the West Hylebos Wetlands preserve created.

The ceremony also officially dedicates the park’s new boardwalk. We’ll have comments from the key figures in getting the boardwalk project rolling. Sen. Tracey Eide, Rep. Skip Priest, Rep. Mark Miloscia and Federal Way Mayor Jack Dovey will also help us christen the boardwalk.

That’s quite an honor roll for the West Hylebos. Also of note is that the Federal Way City Council recently declared the first Saturday of every May to be Hylebos Day in the city, a day to celebrate and enjoy the West Hylebos Wetlands and Hylebos Creek.

That marks a dramatic change in our community over the past 25 years. I got to know Ilene Marckx at the end of her life when she recruited me to be the Friends’ newsletter editor.

She often told me tales of the battle to keep the wetlands from being ruined and to preserve it for future generations. “The long, bloody struggle” she called it, casting it as some brutal military campaign.

Federal Way wasn’t always celebrating its wetlands. When the Marckxes started their work, more than a few people would’ve been willing to pave right over the West Hylebos and keep on going.

Over the past quarter century, though, Federal Way has evolved from strip mall wasteland to a leader in conservation. The West Hylebos Wetlands has long been recognized as one of the Puget Sound’s unique and precious wetland preserves. More recently, Hylebos Creek — the watershed that nurtures the wetlands — has come to be recognized as one of the healthiest, most intact of the urban stream systems feeding the sound.

Our community has figured out — and believe me, a lot of communities are still confused by this — that quality of life needs clean air, clean water and green forests. We’ve begun to develop a brand of conservation that balances growth sensibly with protection of important natural areas.

Working with Federal Way and other cities of the Hylebos Watershed, we’ve permanently protected more than 425 acres with a goal of protecting 320 acres more.

We have a lot to celebrate today. Come rain or shine.

Chris Carrel is a lifelong Federal Way resident and executive director of the Friends of the Hylebos. Contact: chinook@hylebos.org or (253) 874-2005.

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