The Environmental Advocate: A hidden jewel among the cattails — the Edmonds Marsh


By Laura Spehar

Whether you live in the “bowl area” of Edmonds or in the neighborhoods just above known as the “rim,” you must at one time or another have heard about the Edmonds Marsh. Edmonds has a precious commodity, as this estuary is one of the very few still in existence within urbanized areas along Puget Sound.

As you can see from the time lapse photography here, the Edmonds Marsh was once quite larger and occupied nearly 40 acres downtown. Today, the Edmonds Marsh is at 22 1/2 acres and owned by the City of Edmonds. The Port of Edmonds-owned property — the Harbor Square business complex — sits next to this precious place, which hosts 225 species of birds during the course of a year.

Feeling curious to check this place out? Head on over to the Harbor Square area and locate the interpretative walkway and 300 feet of boardwalk for your viewing pleasure.

Recently, I interviewed a few local folks who are very involved with the history and the future of the Edmonds Marsh. I learned from Sally Lider, City of Edmonds environmental coordinator, that the City of Edmonds obtained the Edmonds Marsh as a quit claim deed from Unocal — hence its former name, the Union Oil Marsh, on Nov. 17, 1981. Rich Lindsay, the City of Edmonds parks manager, explained to me that the walkway and interpretative signage have all been funded over the years by various grants, the Port of Edmonds and Unocal (now called Chevron).

Lindsay went on to tell me that over the years various groups have been involved in clean-ups and invasive plant removals within the Marsh including the Faith Community Church and People for Puget Sound (PFPS) volunteers. “While the City of Edmonds Parks Department crews clean walkways along the Marsh twice a month and trim the vegetation that grows into the pathways and boardwalks there is still volunteer work and restoration that needs to be done,” Lindsay explained.

Most of the restoration issues mainly involve invasive weeds living within our Marsh, including Purple Loosestrife, Japanese Knotweed and Giant Hogweed, Lindsay stated. This is where Keeley O’Connell, our local resident and restoration team lead for People for Puget Sound comes in. O’Connell, a restoration ecologist for PFPS, was first contracted in 2008 through the Maureen Norberry Foundation. This foundation, which is headed by Maureen Norberry (a PFPS member at the time), was concerned about the Edmonds Marsh possibly being affected by the planned Edmonds Crossing Project. (Edmonds Crossing, which would have involved relocating the Edmonds ferry terminal south of the existing site, is currently on hold.)

The foundation paid PFPS to do a study that would look at social perceptions of the Marsh and the possible impact that ferry traffic would have on it. The study results included a conceptual design of restorative actions that the City of Edmonds could take such as a better boardwalk system to better connect residents to the Marsh. O’Connell involved her Sound Stewards program to work with the City to transform the landscape around the Marsh to better support wildlife habitat needs.

O’Connell and a few other Edmonds residents formed a “Friends of the Edmonds Marsh” group in 2009. The group’s mission is to expand and restore functional estuarine habitat within the Edmonds Marsh and protect the remaining wildlife habitat by engaging the community to preserve, steward and enjoy this natural asset. To learn more about the Friends of the Edmonds Marsh’s vision, goals and rational, visit their Facebook page.

“There is still more work to be done around the Marsh and vegetative buffers to be built,” said O’Connell, who credits the work  of local resident Sean Madden, a concerned citizen who took it upon himself to research all the vegetation existing within the Edmonds Marsh and its local wildlife. Madden designed a planting plan that would benefit wildlife and native vegetation needs within the Marsh.  O’Connell also mentioned that without the sincere partnership of the City of Edmonds Parks Department, whose crews tirelessly pick up the many bags of plant debris and even large metal objects found within the Marsh, this restoration project couldn’t happen.

O’Connell recently applied for and received a “Restore America’s Estuaries” grant through the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which she has already started to use create two upcoming stream side landowners workshops in May 2012 for residents who live on Shell, Willow or Shelbarger creeks, which flow into the Edmonds Marsh.

Thanks to O’Connell’s organization, People for Puget Sound, and their new Eco-Techs Internship Program, the Edmonds Marsh has a team of folks monitoring its current heron colony for the Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife in 2012-2013.

Stay tuned for part two of this series, where we look into what restoration efforts are happening today at the Edmonds Marsh and what the new development at Harbor Square and the Port has planned for the Marsh.

(Historic photos of the Edmonds Marsh are courtesy of People for Puget Sound and Edmonds Citizens Awareness Committee.)

Laura Spehar with her award

Laura Spehar is a Montessori teacher and environmental educator, and was named Edmonds’ Citizen of the Year in 2011. She is a WSU Master Gardener, Beach Watcher and Carbon Master, and holds certifications in wildlife habitat and native plant stewardships. Spehar serves on the Snohomish Conservation District’s Advisory Board, Pilchuck Audubon Society Board, Friends of the Edmonds Library Board, and the City of Edmonds Mayor’s Climate Action Committee Board and Tree Board. She was awarded the National Wildlife Federation’s National Conservation Service Award in 2010. Spehar lives in Edmonds with her husband Paul and their two dogs Goldie and Happy on two acres of well-loved and protected wetland/stream side habitat.


  1. Nice piece Laura, what you failed to mention is that Keeley helped the City of Edmonds (for me) in updating its’ WRIA8 information (last contact was D. Bowman) and thus putting the Edmonds Marsh on the map in terms of grant dollars.

    Now that the data base was updated, we invited WRIA8 delegates to visit our Marsh as many didn’t even know it existed and so now the City of Edmonds can receive some grant funding to help look at restoring our Marsh.

    Keeley has provided me with such in-depth knowledge as to why we must day-light Willow Creek and get salmon coming back into that habitat that I hope to go listen to her presentation on Earth Day.

    We could have one of the most unique salt water/natural water environment in the world, if we just start realizing the importance of this unique venue for birds, fish, other critters and absorbing water to make a new healthier environment.

    If we restore it, the will come


  2. Diane B. is very correct on all the information she listed.. Diane, you’ve “beat me to the punch line” as they say.. I plan to cover all of that good work in part two of this three-part series I am writing.. thanks for all you, Diane have done for the Edmonds Marsh.. stay tuned for more Marsh news~!


  3. Sorry Laura, I will still await your comments as this area is so important to all of us. I won’t say anymore, but hope you will address what happened after the hillside was cleared of trees a few years back. The more support we get for the Marsh..and understanding that it is an environmental treasure, the better. Thank you for all your volunteering efforts, educating many of us and leading by example.


  4. Thanks, Laura, for such a great first article of your Edmonds Marsh series. One correction regarding People For Puget Sound’s funding and partners- we originally became involved in Edmonds Marsh restoration efforts in 2008 through Kirvil Skinnarland, who mamanges the Maria Norbury Foundation. Kirvil is a People For Puget Sound member and was, until recently, an Edmonds resident.

    Looking forward to the next two installments of this series!


  5. Thank you for bringing more public awareness and attention to our precious Edmonds Marsh, Laura. And thanks to you, Keeley, Diane, and so many other concerned and dedicated residents helping to preserve and bring more new life to this local natural gem. In the name of the herons, all the other fauna and flora, and future salmon of the Edmonds Marsh, thank you. 🙂


  6. The Edmonds marsh does not host anywhere near 225 bird species per year. Birders who have kept the records for the last 25 years document 80 to 90 species in a good year. Those are good numbers for a habitat that has been cut in half and squeezed by incompatible uses on all sides. To date, we have documented 263 species throughout the entire city, including its marine waterfront.




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