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.
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.
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.
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