If you like Hylebos Creek, the West Hylebos Wetlands, or just plain like the amount of green space Federal Way still has, then you need to know about Ted Enticknap. The Spring Valley man, who passed away Aug. 1 at age 87 after a long battle with Parkinson’s Disease, was an instrumental, though always behind-the-scenes force in keeping so much of our community’s best open space open and green.
He was also, quite possibly, one of the most unique activists and pure characters Federal Way has ever had. Most conservation advocates, even the most diplomatic, at some point will try to persuade you to see their side. Ted’s effectiveness was based on a simple and sincere approach: he showed you the history and let the facts speak for themselves.
Ted was famous for his “salmon tours,” in which he ferried you around the Hylebos watershed in his old baby blue Studebaker (which in itself reminded me of a distant time in America), visiting special places along the Hylebos. He carried with him a stack of old photos and newspaper clippings. Each stop would be a lesson in the history of the Hylebos.
‘This reach flooded, when a property was illegally logged upstream. Here, the people had to be rescued from the floodwaters by the fire department. This reach of the creek features the best damn Chinook spawning in the watershed but the floodplain is messed up. Look at these photos of Chinook salmon stranding themselves in the field.’
Ted and his wife Ruth moved to the Spring Valley area – alongside the North Fork of the Hylebos – in 1967. He fell in love with the area’s natural beauty and over the years became the creek’s unofficial historian. As rampant, unplanned development began to threaten the creek in the 1970s and 1980s, Ted began to share stories of what was happening and what was being lost.
Anyone elected to, or running for city council, city staff, and conservationists like me, got the salmon tour. It probably sounds simple, but the tours were both sublimely subversive and powerfully effective.
Former Federal Way Council Member and current State Legislator Skip Priest recalls his Hylebos education more than 18 years.
“Right after I was elected [to the council in 1992] I got a call from Ted who invited me on a tour. He said, ‘This is extraordinarily important to our community and you need to know about it.’ And the request was non-negotiable.”
Ted raised the visibility of the Hylebos to every council member during the city’s history. He also attended every council meeting from the city’s inception, until his illness forced his retirement three years ago. He kept council members updated on the stream’s challenges and made sure that if there was a decision that would affect the Hylebos, council members had to make it in front of him and be able to look him in the eye afterwards.
I count Ted as the single most important reason that council after council in this city has supported Hylebos conservation.
I met Ted Enticknap the same way that so many Federal Way’ers did: riding shotgun in the Studebaker on a Hylebos tour. While I’d known Hylebos Creek as a boy, I learned so much on that tour. Afterwards, for years, when I had a question about a reach of the stream or some bit of ancient Hylebos history, I called Ted. I always got the answer, along with some rich stories, a bit of salty language, and a smile for my efforts.
When the Friends introduced a volunteer water quality monitoring program, Ted was one of the first to sign up, even though he was in his late seventies at the time. Like the council meetings, he was there from the beginning until his illness cruelly forced his retirement.
In 2006, at our Ruby Dance Awards Dinner, we gave Ted our Lifetime Achievement Award for his work on behalf of the Hylebos. Though his contribution is unquestionable, it’s difficult to explain the power of his efforts. When it comes to conservation, communities only conserve something when they are aware of the natural resource and the threats. In the 1970s and 1980s, Federal Way was a community that had forgotten its creek
Ted served as our memory of the Hylebos, and in some ways served as our conscience, as well. By steadfastly bearing witness, and opening our eyes to this special place, he brought the Hylebos back into our hearts and back into our priorities. And for that, well, we all owe Ted a bit of gratitude.