One overcast day in November 2007, I embarked on a boat tour of the Duwamish River to learn more about the natural, cultural and political history of this local Superfund site. While cruising from Harbor Island to Turning Basin—the northern to the southern limits of the Superfund designation—I learned how this river transformed from an estuary with thousands of acres of tidal flats and riparian habitat to an industrial site in which less than two percent of natural habitat remains.
From my guide, a representative of Duwamish River Cleanup Coalition, I also learned about the amazing alliance of communities, tribes, environmental organizations and businesses involved in cleanup and outreach efforts, including habitat restoration events, festivals, and youth programs. I also got to hear the incredibly inspiring story of John Beal, a Vietnam veteran who, after being told he had four months to live due to heart problems, decided to use that time to cleanup nearby Hamm Creek, a polluted, garbage-infested creek that drained into the Duwamish River. Through his efforts, Hamm Creek became healthy enough habitat to support salmon spawning, beaver dams and dozens of bird species. Beal himself went on to live another 27 years.
These and other stories I heard on that boat tour inspired me to get more involved in the restoration of the Duwamish River. I attended several Duwamish Alive events, with habitat restoration occurring at several sites along the river, as well as Duwamish River Festivals, which educate and inform communities about the cleanup progress as well as celebrate success with activities such as kayak tours, food, music and dance. I also was able to coordinate annual Duwamish River Cruises for zoo members, staff, volunteers, community partners and participants in Woodland Park Zoo's Backyard Habitat workshops and classes. At these boat tours, participants are able to learn about the cultural and natural history of the river, pollution hotspots and habitat restoration opportunities with the Duwamish River Cleanup Coalition while searching for wildlife that live on or in the river, including eagles, ospreys, seals, otters and beavers.
The next opportunity to join Woodland Park Zoo on one of these Duwamish River Cruises is Wednesday, July 27th from 7:00 to 9:00 pm. The cost is $25 per person for ages 13 and up and $10 for kids 3-12 years with kids 2 and under being free. To register, see the Backyard Habitat page on the zoo's website. For more information about the Duwamish River Cleanup Coalition, please see their website: http://www.duwamishcleanup.org/
Photos by Jenny Mears/Woodland Park Zoo.