After 500 hours of hard labor on 18 days this summer, over 50 community volunteers relished in their success in restoring stream flows in the Edmonds Marsh that had been blocked by chain-link fencing and a huge, spreading mass of an invasive plant called bittersweet nightshade.
This year’s volunteer restoration project, conducted under an Adopt-A-Highway Agreement with the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT), continued last year’s effort to re-establish Shellabarger Creek’s flow into the Edmonds Marsh. Monthly data collected over several years by the Edmonds Stream Team and students from Meadowdale and Edmonds-Woodway High Schools showed that the overgrowth of invasive nightshade had formed thickets in and around the chain-link fencing on both sides of Highway 104 blocking and diverting freshwater flow. The nightshade had also spread throughout the wetland, overwhelming the creek channel and killing trees and other native vegetation.
This summer’s restoration work focused on re-establishing the creek channel on the west side of Highway 104 to complement last year’s successful restoration work on the east side of Highway 104, which re-established a creek channel from the lower end of Shellabarger Creek to the culverts. These culverts, though partially blocked with sediment, are the sole channel for Shellabarger Creek flow to the west side of Highway 104 into the Edmonds Marsh and out to Puget Sound. Prior to the 2021 restoration work, the nightshade-entwined fencing diverted winter stormwater flows in the creek to the Dayton Street intersection, causing flooding.
Community volunteers recognized early on in this restoration project that they could not eradicate all of the invasive nightshade, as it was so pervasive in the wetland. The restoration project instead focused on removing the chain-link fencing (which the nightshade used as an “anchor”) and removing nightshade to the extent possible to maintain open stream channels. The edges of the wetland along Highway 104 were also a priority for nightshade removal to prevent this invasive plant from growing onto and killing trees.
Volunteers also learned quickly the hazards of pulling nightshade roots, only to find themselves waist deep in mud and/or water. Wood pallets (donated by Beacon Building Products and others) became the “bridges” through the wetland so volunteers could transverse the wetland without fear of getting stuck in the mud. Chest-waders, donated by Olympic Fly Fishers, became fashionable attire for working effectively in knee-deep mud and waist-deep water.
As one of the “regular” volunteers, Selena Bolotin said, “I gained so much from volunteering at the Marsh Restoration project; increased knowledge of the marsh habitat and the negative impact of invasive plants as part of environmental neglect. It was rewarding to see previously stagnant water begin to flow, all in the course of 2 hours of pulling out nightshade plants. The camaraderie of fellow volunteers doing meaningful work made time pass quickly and resulted in seeing quick progress for a seemingly overwhelming task. Having student volunteers involved was particularly brilliant, as they learn scientific tools and knowledge and how to leverage community advocacy — an outdoor schooling that will serve us all in the future.”
Another goal of the restoration project this year was to find and re-establish the Shellabarger Creek channel going west into the estuary and/or connecting to Willow Creek. Although aerial maps and city contractor reports alluded to a creek channel going west from the culverts under Highway 104, no such channel could be found in that area. Finally, in early August, volunteer John Brock noticed a westward water flow as he pulled nightshade roots at the south end of the restoration work site (far south of the culverts). Once this westward creek channel had been found, the last weeks of nightshade removal focused on opening up Shellabarger Creek as far west as possible. Although volunteers made significant progress in opening the creek well into the marsh, the season end date arrived before they could find the Willow Creek/estuary connection. So, that work will have to wait until next summer unless the creek opens up the last of the channel “on its own” during heavy winter rain flows.
All in all, volunteers were successful in re-establishing the Shellabarger Creek channel on both sides of Highway 104 and westward into Marsh. This will provide huge benefits to the functionality of the marsh ecosystem and benefit the wildlife and birdwatchers that frequent the Edmonds Marsh-Estuary. The Edmonds Marsh-Estuary has deteriorated due to both lack of daily tidal exchange and freshwater circulation. With the city finally agreeing to leave the tide gate open year-round (which started in October of 2020) and the diligent work of community volunteers to enhance freshwater circulation and surrounding trees, we are well on our way to bringing back salmon to the marsh and its creeks once the tidal connection is opened across the old Unocal property and Marina Beach.
Many thanks to WSDOT and all the volunteers who helped to prove that community volunteers can successfully restore our natural environment without draining taxpayer funds for expensive consultants (who don’t have on-the-ground or local knowledge, nor the persistence of community members). As the saying goes “Where there is a will – there is a way.”
Marsh restoration volunteers were Aiden Curran, Amelie Mederios, Andy Chin, Barbara Ford, Bernie Zavala, William Alexander, Bob Mooney, Chris Walton, Diane Buckshnis, Isis Liaw, Joe Scordino, John Brock, Joshua Ly, Karen Andres, Kenneth Schultz, Lars Andres, Laszlo Rosman, Lorraine Monroe, Makana Apio, Nancy Scordino, Nathan Zeon, Scot Simpson, Selena Bolotin, Teresa Schultz, Valerie Rosman, Vivian Olson, Alessandra Serafini, Anna Berge, Annabelle Yenter, Benten Taing, Elizabeth Fleming, Bob Seidensticker, Christopher Konkel, Dave Millette, Evan Grey, Greg Ferguson, Jane O’Dell, Kai Rosman, Kathy Jones, Lucia Brady, Maria Metler, Marjie Fields, Matthew Jack, Noah Croskey, Piper Hanson, Russel Jack, Tauri Senn, Vance Ekrem, Waylisha Grey, and Yvette Osai.
— By Joe Scordino
Project leader, Edmonds Stream Team