Letter to the editor: An open letter to Mayor Nelson about volunteer marsh restoration work

Dear Mayor Nelson,

Why are you not responding to community volunteer requests to extend the successful stream channel restoration project along Hwy 104 into the marsh? Last year at this time, there were numerous work parties planned out to participate in. Summer is already here, this effort requires you permission immediately.

The marsh stream salmon restoration effort has already made significant progress over the years. Many hundreds of volunteer hours have been expended, pulling out blocking wire mesh fence and dump truck loads of invasive deadly nightshade. The effort now needs to reach into the blocked channels within the marsh and connect them to those that flow out to the sound. Volunteers hope that salmon may be able to access these channels through the marsh, both for juveniles and returning spawning adults.

Please publicly address your reasons to not permit this volunteer effort to continue.

Bill Alexander, Edmonds

Editor’s note: In late May, we heard a similar concern from another citizen and requested a response from the city. Here’s the response we received from Parks, Recreation and Human Services Director Angie Feser:

Due to staffing changes and without a Volunteer Coordinator, the City of Edmonds Parks & Recreation Department has paused all volunteer work efforts on city park properties. We have unfortunately had to turn away all groups that have approached us this year including Scout groups and the Lions Club. A Volunteer Coordinator position was considered by Council during the 2023 budget process, but ultimately not approved. Without that position in place, we are unable to provide any additional volunteer project work outside of our annual Earth Day program. The city does provide funding for Sound Salmon Solutions who provides community volunteer opportunities in conjunction with Edmonds Stewards and the Edmonds School District Student Saving Salmon program which provides volunteering options for our community youth.



  1. It’s ironic that the Mayor put out a Press Release on March 23, 2023 where he is quoted as saying “Edmonds has a long history of conservation and our residents have spoken clearly that the Edmonds Marsh is a priority for them.” Yet, he, as the Executive for the City, appears to be allowing his staff to obstruct the only successful restoration effort underway in the Edmonds Marsh. This successful volunteer restoration project has received accolades from the Edmonds City Council (twice) and the Washington State Secretary of Transportation.

  2. Tom, my thoughts too. How was this done previously without a “Volunteer Coordinator”? We don’t need a Volunteer Coordinator, we need new leadership.

  3. The Mayor has been asked twice over several months, with NO RESPONSE, to authorize volunteers to conduct restoration work in the Edmonds Marsh. The Mayor is the chief executive office for the City and thus can authorize volunteers (with waiver of liability forms) regardless of the excuses his Parks Director has concocted. There is an alternative to the Park Director’s excuses about volunteer coordination, and that is a simple $2,000 amendment to the City’s contract with Sound Salmon Solutions to ‘cover’ this project along with other volunteer habitat projects they coordinate on City property. It should be noted this project has been “self-coordinated” very successfully with volunteers signing WSDOT liability forms, tracking and reporting hours, etc. , etc. and same would obviously apply when the volunteer work extends into the body of the Marsh.

  4. Last summer the Marsh volunteers made significant progress in removing Bittersweet Nightshade that is choking off the Marsh, and in getting the water flowing. We only have a short window of time (July 15th – Sept 15th) that work is allowed in the Marsh so as not to disturb wildlife. We need to keep the momentum moving against the Nightshade. PLEASE sign the approvals to let us back into the Marsh to continue our work. We are offering FREE LABOR. Council Member Neil Tibbott emailed me, “The hold up is mainly recent staffing changes with parks and legal requirements for the city. Both situations should be cleared up by next year and we’ll be back to business with more support.” The Marsh can’t wait until next year. We need to get back into the Marsh THIS YEAR. The Mayor and City Council need to tell the truth as to why they are not supporting our work in the Marsh. Maybe this newspaper can interview the Mayor and each City Council member and publish their answers as to why the approval isn’t being given so voters will have this information.

    1. May 22 at Edmonds Waterfront Center, Edmonds Civic Roundtable for Mayoral candidates. A perfect opportunity to raise this issue directly with each candidate. 7 pm I believe.

      1. UPDATE – The Edmonds Beacon (6/15/23 issue) has a Guestview abt Sound Salmon Solutions & The City of Edmonds partnering to manage a volunteer program called the Edmonds Stewards who meet every other Saturday around Edmonds City Parks to restore natural ecosystems. The Marsh is not listed as one of the “parks” but the author does not say the City has “paused” their volunteer work. How does this “partnership” connect or not with the Marsh project? I’m confused.

    2. Maybe when Council President Tibbott said that it should be cleared up by next year, he was referring to having a new mayor in office!

  5. To “turn away” requires action. The decision is communicated to those who made the request. To “not respond” is a different matter and is not an option available to Mayor Mike Nelson and his staff. Mayor Mike Nelson is charged with enforcing the City’s Code of Conduct which includes the following:

    The City’s primary function is to provide service to the citizens of Edmonds. To achieve that goal, all employees are expected to treat the public as their most valued customer. All employees are expected to serve the public in a professional manner, which is courteous, efficient and helpful.

    Furthermore, the Code of Ethics states: Keep the community informed on municipal affairs and encourage communications between the citizens and all municipal officers. Emphasize friendly and courteous service to the public and each other; seek to improve the quality of public service, and confidence of citizens.

    The $42,249 budget request turned down is far below the Mayor’s contracting limit. If this new position was suddenly needed for 2023, the Mayor may have been able to contract for these services without involving City Council.

  6. We have a choice coming up –
    Vote in a new Mayor who is responsive to the community and its leaders, volunteers and
    Another example of passing the buck to director of Parks, who does not represent “we the people.”

  7. Absolutely incredible that this is happening. I will be disappointed in every City Council member who does not publicly voice their concerns over this. This is a slap in the face to all citizen volunteers for our city. We have a rich history of volunteerism in this city. Let’s not lose it.

  8. I believe that volunteerism is the secret sauce in our country and even more so here in Edmonds. It bogles my mind that people wanting to serve need to beg the city to offer their time, talent and sweat equity to improve our community. Our city will NEVER have enough money to do all the things we want to do. We will NEVER have enough money to hire all the people it would take to do the things we would like to do. There isn’t a nonprofit that has not benefited from the good work of volunteers. We are lucky to have so many people who are willing to give so much. As a city we should be working as hard as possible to unleash the human potential we have in Edmonds and make it easy for volunteers to sign up for projects and opportunities. Surely a creative solution can be found. Perhaps a small group of volunteers could help find a solution?

    1. Thank You Mike Rosen for your thoughtful and collaborative response. I don’t know you yet, but I think you are definitely one to get to know and watch as the Edmonds mayoral race heats up. I see from querying you on the internet that you have a long history of volunteerism in the community and you have also been involved in Environmental Protection.

      I don’t see other Edmonds leaders speaking up here. Mike Nelson, what do you have to say about the Edmonds Marsh volunteers issue? It would be helpful for us to understand what is going on if you would weigh in here.

  9. Whoever is reading this, please visit The Edmonds Marsh and be sure to not just visit the boardwalk. Walk around on the sidewalk along Highway 104 and see the Restoration sites for yourself. You will see the pallets there that we floated into The Marsh to use as a walkway to get in and do our work. You will see water flowing at the edge of the site. That water was not flowing before we started last year. Please get informed. The entire Harbor Square developement is sitting entirely on what was once part of The Marsh.

    It is incredibly irresponsible for a local government to turn away a huge contingent of local volunteers ready to work.

    What is the Mayor and City Council’s plan for The Marsh’s future? Whatever it is, is down the road. The Marsh NEEDS HELP NOW! Please let us back in to work.

    Edmonds citizens, please speak up to your local government here.

    1. As a result of battling invasive species in my own yard for many years, I understand the importance of yearly vigilance against the Nightshade that is obstructing stream flow and displacing native vegetation in the Edmonds Marsh. I echo Teresa Schultz’s comment about the urgency- we need to maintain momentum and can’t wait until next year.

      Several commenters have mentioned alternative solutions that wouldn’t add yet another task to our Parks and Recreation Department. I can’t help but think if humans can land people on the moon, surely a committed group working together can figure out how to “land” a group of volunteers near the Marsh!

  10. We have a tremendous history of volunteerism in this city that in turn has fostered a real sense of community. In the past each year hundreds of volunteers have spent thousands of hours beautifying our city and enhancing the environment without the benefit of a “volunteer coordinator.” What has changed? Nothing! And nothing is what we are getting from the mayor and this city government. We need some flexibility and initiative from this government rather than “no’s” or, what is worse, being ignored. It is irresponsible to turn away free labor and the expense of our environment.

  11. I have been complaining for several years now that there is no real accountability built into this Strong Mayor/Weak Council system we seem to be so in love with here. This is just the latest example of how this system pretty much routinely fails us in the end. Logical questions about what is really going on either don’t get asked or are ignored by our executive branch because they have no requirement of being held accountable. We need a city manager who has to actually answer to real representative council persons, elected out of specific districts who have some actual power to get things done beyond just voting on funding.

    On one hand we have a parks department with so much recently added staff and equipment that they need more space and another expensive building but there isn’t adequate time or resources to accommodate a volunteer force of helpers. What utter B.S.

  12. Slightly off-topic, but I’d like to stress that volunteers of the sort involved in the Marsh project acquire a strong sense of ownership. The young people working in the Marsh will be more engaged and more proud of their city than the average, and in an era where disengagement seems to be a pattern, closing off an avenue for civic involvement is in effect, closing youth off from “ownership” in our city. An educational opportunity is being wasted, as well as the obvious environmental opportunity.

  13. As an East Coast transplant during Covid, one of the things I came to enjoy early on was the Edmonds Marsh several times a week. I was encouraged last year by the work being done at the marsh, but discouraged to read these recent comments. I look forward to attending the mayoral debate June 22, so I can learn more about my community politics to ensure that my vote will will be informed and matter. As a member of the Edmonds Lions Club I learned of the frustrations in volunteer efforts at one of the parks. Seems like a lot of missed opportunities here.

  14. The dysfunction and dissatisfaction of how things are going in this town is palpable. My family is certainly in that camp. This is one example of many. Having to write open letters on a public forum to attempt to get answers? Good grief.

  15. During my 3+ years of service on the Edmonds Planning Board, we received regular briefings from the Parks Department. Parks leadership always projected a can-do spirit, a totally positive attitude of “let’s get things done for the people of Edmonds.” I always came away from those briefings full of optimism about the future of parks projects in Edmonds.

    So what’s happened to that department? How have they gotten so off track? All that positive energy reduced to making excuses for inaction and sidelining volunteers. So unhelpful, so sad. Dedicated civic leaders like Joe Scordino should be cultivated and treasured, not ignored or pushed aside.

    Mike Rosen is correct, volunteerism is indeed the secret sauce that makes Edmonds great. We need a leader in the mayor’s office who understands people, who celebrates volunteers and knows how to work with them. We can fix things and restore volunteerism in Edmonds.

  16. At last Monday’s public town hall budget meeting Council Person Nand suggested we might want to look at creating a Parks and Recreation Board separate from our Planning Board. Seems like such a Board could be made up of volunteers helping coordinate all town volunteer efforts with staff. Bellevue has a board of volunteers who do actual park clean ups and have groups that take on various street areas for litter clean up and shopping cart returns.

    1. Hello Clint,

      Thank you for bringing that up. After meeting with Joe Scordino, Marjie Fields, and Bill Derry, it became clear to me that our city government can only benefit from the expertise and dedication of our passionate volunteers. I am in favor of creating a Parks Board to handle coordination with staff and volunteering in city parks and public spaces going forward, at little additional expense to the taxpayers.

      This is an idea I have brought up to my fellow councilmembers and the mayoral administration multiple times. My hope would be that the parks department would see the benefit in assigning a staff person to coordinate with a volunteer Park Board. I will continue to advocate for this idea in the 2024 budget process.


      Jenna Nand
      Edmonds City Council, Pos. #7

  17. Perhaps one suggestion to help would be to schedule a photo op ribbon cutting ceremony for the Mayor to show up at the Marsh. Maybe that would get his attention.

  18. It does seem , on the face of it, rather silly for the City to not welcome offers of citizens volunteerism . Especially for the mere lacking of another beaucratic position titled as “Volunteer coordinator” !
    I won’t bother speaking of city staff being so stuck in their individual boxes that they can’t think outside of them or punch their way through them.
    I don’t want to paint anyone into a corner. Our City staff work hard and do the best they can .
    But, c’mon!. There’s gotta be a way around this little roadblock…
    Parks Manager, Angie Feser , please allow the Lions Club to make the improvements to Sierra Park; that they have proposed and are ready to do!
    Mayor Mike Nelson, please allow the Marsh folks to do their work….we can see that they know what they’re doing !
    I am sure that this can be worked out and our citizens’ generous contributions of their time, intellect, and labor can be utilized …this year!
    Thank you everyone.

  19. It’d be a lot of work, but it’d be great if we could leave to the next generation a vibrant marsh with a restored salmon run.

  20. Nature does not wait for government processes. It has it’s own agenda. The stream volunteer leads and community know when its time to strike against invasive vegetation and salmon- blocking weather and climate events. Last year’s marsh cleanup resulted not only in returning a natural stream flow, but in restoring wildlife habit: this spring observers recorded the first appearance of a beaver in the marsh…at the 104 creek restoration site. But knotweed and other noxious vegetation are continuing their march around the marsh, not holding off until the city comes up with a strategy. Our experienced volunteers know what to do and when to do it.

  21. The December 5, 2022 City Council Meeting Minutes include the following:

    “Ms. Feser said she would be delighted to have a volunteer coordinator in their department and anticipated it would be a tremendous return on investment because a part-time time employee can generate hundreds if not thousands of hours of labor to help with trail building, invasives removal, native plant and tree planting, restoration work, etc.”

    If there truly was a need for this NEW part-time position, did City Council understand that by not budgeting $42,249 for this new position, hundreds if not thousands of hours of volunteer labor would be turned away by Mayor Mike Nelson and his staff?

    Now that it is understood, will Council promptly amend the budget and facilitate the “tremendous return on investment”?

    What a sad picture into Edmonds City Government.

    1. I’m curious how we went so long without the volunteer coordinator position yet have had robust involvement by our citizens in the past. And in this case having willing and able individuals who want to do good. Seems to me that this is just adding bureaucracy and expense when none is needed.

    2. Hello Ken, the city already has a volunteer coordinator and that is why I don’t support adding another .5 FTE.

      Joe, Chris, and I have worked things out with the Council President – so we are back on track.

  22. I agree Jim – hard to understand why staff requested this NEW position be budgeted for. It appears that we had never had such a position in the past.

    The following is from the related Budget Decision Packet:

    Item Description
    This is a new, part-time position of Volunteer Coordinator would plan, develop, and manage the City’s Parks volunteer programs, including the development of goals, policies and procedures, and marketing. Emphasis of the volunteer program in on the outdoor volunteer programs, including park/trails stewardship, native plant projects, and other restoration work in our parks/open spaces.

    The City of Edmonds has a robust volunteer community of services, organizations, groups, and individuals. The Parks, Recreation, Cultural Arts, and Human Services Department provides only a few opportunities for volunteer events and activities due to staff limitations to manage a volunteer program. By providing a dedicated City Volunteer Coordinator, the city will be able to leverage a part-time employee into many more community volunteer opportunities, and hundreds of hours of work in our parks and public spaces.

    I can find nothing in the meeting minutes about the Mayor and staff turning away volunteers if this position was not budgeted for.

  23. He keeps doing the same thing over and over again…not showing up…the results are always the same.
    He is MIA.
    Remember your vote counts!

  24. Postponing continuation of volunteer marsh work rings my alarm bells. Who doesn’t want a healthy ecosystem and why?

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