Edmonds-Woodway ‘Students Saving Salmon’ carry on legacy of former teacher John Cooke at the Edmonds Marsh

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Retired Edmonds High School biology teacher John Cooke discusses how to improve salmon habitat at the Edmonds Marsh with Evan Zhao, Edmonds-Woodway senior and member of the Students Saving Salmon group.
Retired Edmonds High School biology teacher John Cooke discusses how to improve salmon habitat at the Edmonds Marsh with Evan Zhao, Edmonds-Woodway senior and member of the Students Saving Salmon group.

On a sunny afternoon as herons glided across the marsh and the song of marsh birds filled the air, retired Edmonds high school biology teacher John Cooke returned to the Edmonds Marsh for the first time in 25 years.

“The marsh was my favorite outdoor classroom,” said Cooke. “Back in the 1970s I would bring my students here to learn first-hand about ecology of this amazing natural area.”

But it soon became more than that as Cooke and his students learned about how the marsh had changed over the years.

Cooke used the Edmonds Marsh as his outdoor classroom for generations of students in the 1970s and 1980s.  His students went beyond learning about the science of the marsh, and became advocates for mitigating the damage caused by years of filling and development.
Cooke used the Edmonds Marsh as his outdoor classroom for generations of students in the 1970s and 1980s. His students went beyond learning about the science of the marsh, and became advocates for mitigating the damage caused by years of filling and development.

Originally covering an estimated 100 acres, which included the present Harbor Square and Salish Crossing areas, the marsh has since been reduced to less than a quarter of that. But it’s more than just loss of area. The original marsh was an estuary, a place where salt and fresh water mix. Also called salt marshes, estuaries are among the most productive and important ecosystems on the planet, providing a wide variety of birds, fish and other wildlife with shelter, food, and an ideal environment to reproduce.

The more Cooke’s students learned, the more they became concerned about how the marsh had changed. This led them to take the marsh on as a project. They gathered information, processed it, presented it to decision makers, and began what continues today as a concerted effort by citizens, advocacy groups, environmentalists and government to restore and enhance the marsh environment.

Edmonds citizen and advocate Val Stewart provides guidance to the Students Saving Salmon group.  Here she walks with Cooke along the boardwalk bordering the west edge of the Edmonds Marsh.
Edmonds citizen and advocate Val Stewart provides guidance to the Students Saving Salmon group. Here she walks with Cooke along the boardwalk bordering the west edge of the Edmonds Marsh.

Because of this, Cooke has become something of an idol to a group of current EWHS students, who with the help of local advocate and community leader Val Stewart came together over their shared concern for the environment and for Pacific salmon in particular.

“This started for me as part of a Citizens Action Training School course designed to help foster citizen interest and advocacy of important issues,” she said.

The course is sponsored by the Puget Sound Partnership, a group advocating for salmon recovery, shell fish bed restoration and storm water pollution mitigation. One requirement of participants is to propose and complete a 50-hour project that supports one of these areas.

“I decided to focus on salmon, and specifically to help young people learn how to become effective advocates for change in this area,” she said.

Stewart provides the guidance, but she stresses that the students do the work, which involves many hours researching codes, studying informational packets, conducting interviews, preparing issues briefs and decision papers, and presenting testimony and documentation to decision makers. The group even picked their own name: “Students Saving Salmon.”

Evan Zhao, a senior at Edmonds-Woodway and a full International Baccalaureate diploma candidate, has been part of Students Saving Salmon since its inception. “Part of my project was looking into the question of creating a larger buffer zone around the north end of the Marsh near the Harbor Square tennis courts,” he said. “I studied the issue, learned about the Shoreline Management Act and Edmonds’ Shoreline Master Program, and then prepared and presented testimony to the City Council.” Zhao’s testimony was presented on September 16.

Originally an estuary, the Edmonds Marsh provided shelter, food and breeding areas for a host of birds, animals, marine and aquatic life.  While much reduced in size and changed due to many years of filling and being blocked off from intrusion of seawater, the Marsh still remains Edmonds' premier natural area.
Originally an estuary, the Edmonds Marsh provided shelter, food and breeding areas for a host of birds, animals, marine and aquatic life. While much reduced in size and changed due to many years of filling and being blocked off from intrusion of seawater, the Marsh still remains Edmonds’ premier natural area.

And this is exactly the point of Stewart’s project. “We need more young voices, more participation in the important issues facing us today,” she said. “It’s only through an active, informed citizenry that we can function effectively as a democratic society.”

The public is invited to learn about the Marsh and current restoration issues on a tour led by Restoration Ecologist Keeley O’Connell this Saturday, Oct. 4, from 10:30 a.m. to noon. Invitees include Mayor Earling, City Councilmembers and representatives from the tribes and other stakeholder groups. Meet at the Marsh walkway adjacent to Harbor Square Athletic Club. Treats provided!

— Story and photos by Larry Vogel

From left, Stewart; Cooke and his wife Merilyn; and  Zhao.
From left, Stewart; Cooke and his wife Merilyn; and Zhao.

 

5 COMMENTS

  1. This is fantastic! I’m incredibly proud of these young people in our community, taking on the responsibility to learn yet more about the world they live in, their local environmental issues, and challenge themselves to get up and speak out! I also appreciate Val, her dedication to our community and the unique and beautiful gem of Edmonds- our marsh! And lastly, appreciation for the Puget Sound Partnership to provide support and an outlet for all citizens of Puget Sound to educate ourselves on how our daily choices are affecting the health of the Sound and that there are actions, some simple – some more challenging, that we can take as individuals and as a community to create a different future for our marsh, the Puget Sound, our children and all the wildlife that call this place home.

    I hope you can all join us this Saturday at 10:30 at the marsh for a lovely walk and talk!

  2. Thank-you for a very informative and historical story. We need to continue to highlight the importance of this wonderful estuary and wildlife preserve within our community. Great job!

  3. We walk here often, and thank you all……This area and the life here is a gem to be cherished. Some times when the sun hits everything just right there at just the right time and light, I swear I’m looking at an antique 1800s masters landscape oil painting……We must preserve what is left for future generations to cherish also.

  4. Thanks to John Cooke and Evan for inspiring this great article. I’m grateful for the talents of Larry Vogel who made it all happen. By the way, Todd Zackey, tribal biologist, is co-leading Saturday’s Marsh and Shoreline tour.

  5. I would love to be there on Saturday as I have heard Keeley speak a number of times both as a citizen and as a member of WRIA8 (Water Resource Inventory Area 8) Salmon Recovery Commission. Again, this wildlife habitat is a gem and unique to this coastline and it will not restore itself – so let’s support the City’s efforts on day-lighting Willow Creek for salmon recovery and estuary restoration. This is the last remaining gem….let’s help support the efforts to bring it back to its glory.

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