Open spaces, play spaces unite old foes
A beach popular with families but still pretty wild, Double Bluff on Whidbey Island is a matchless locale to watch the interplay of great blue heron and standard poodle.
Our pet S'Murphy Brown loved to start loping toward a distant heron. The heron would go about its feeding until S'Murphy came fairly close. In leisurely fashion, it would take off, circle, and land at a spot where the dog had just trod.
'S'Murphy would break off, excitedly run back to her master and mistress, and proceed to shake salt water all over us.
The park at Double Bluff was created, in part, thanks to support from the Washington Wildlife Recreation Coalition. It's fitting: The WWRC has helped rescue heron rookeries, and created places where kids and dogs can play.
The 20-year-old coalition has secured $620 million in state money for a thousand projects across Washington, paying to protect more than 350,000 acres. It has made life better for people, critters and birds in 37 of the state's 39 counties.
As well, the WWRC has leveraged more than $405 million in local and private money.
At a time America's political life is ugly, brutish and polarized, the cause of Washington's wilderness, farmlands and families has attracted opposites.
"This has brought together inside the room, behind common goals, a lot of people who were fighting outside the room," Elliot (cq) Marks, former Washington director of The Nature Conservancy and coalition convener, said last week.
Coalition directors range from Nature Conservancy activists to a vice president of Washington Realtors, from the president of Port Blakely Tree Farms to the local Sierra Club's land exchange expert. .
Its co-founders are a dignified, almost regal Republican outdoorsman, ex-Gov. Dan Evans, and voluble, populist Democratic ex-Gov. Mike Lowry.
Evans and Lowry live by a lost precept: Elections end. Work needs doing and cooperation gets it done.
The two guys faced off in a 1983 special U.S. Senate election. Within five months, however, Sen. Evans and Rep. Lowry were crafting the million-acre Washington Wilderness Act.
About 2 million people have moved to Washington during the lifetime of this Baby Boomer. An awful lot of them have moved here from "used up" places in America, in part, for the quality of life.
Only the Building Industry Association of Washington could love sprawl. It devours open space, fills in wetlands, paves over farmlands and wrecks salmon spawning streams.
A remarkable public-private effort has worked to protect places and curb excess. By spreading acquisitions and projects across the state, it has neutralized even the most reactionary legislators in Olympia.
"All they have to do is go down through that list and then say, 'Where do I sign up?'" Evans joked at WWRC's annual breakfast last week.
Before the coalition's grant program, the state spent just $2 million each year on land acquisition. Currently, the investment in WWRC comes to $35 million to $50 million each year.
The Nature Conservancy, leveraging private money, has saved small places, e.g. the fragile plants and flowers of little Yellow Island in the San Juans. But at Ellsworth Creek, off Willapa Bay, it is at work restoring an entire 8,800-acre watershed - while protecting a magnificent stand of ancient cedars astride a stream full of splashing, spawning salmon.
The Mountains to Sound Greenway rescued the Snoqualmie Pass corridor from becoming a alpine slum - which was likely in the 1970's - and has vastly enhanced opportunities for those on foot, on horseback or just car camping.
(A Greenway founder-activist, Bellevue attorney Ted Thomsen, just passed away a couple weeks back.)
Looking out a century or so, the Cascade Land Conservancy is mapping and planning how to fit more people into the "Pugetopolis" while preserving farms, creating more parks, and not letting growth push across the Cascade Crest.
'Sounds like dry stuff: Not so. Go see what we've gained.
Visit the new Cama Beach State Park on Camano Island, or access to the Little Si Trail near North Bend, or see newly rescued Smith Farm in Skagit County, or spend a bit of free time along the Ship Canal Trail or at Cal Anderson Park in the heart of Seattle.
Mother Nature ought to salute Dan Evans and Elliot Marks for perseverance.
In Evans' last year as governor, 33 years ago, Congress added famed Shi-Shi Beach and Point of Arches to Olympic National Park, and a sanctuary was created on the Skagit River to protect America's largest winter population of bald eagles.
Evans lobbied Congress and put the arm to timber company executives, while young aide Marks did the grunt work and kept constituencies in the loop.
Its founders are getting older, and talk of recreating on replaced knees or hips, but the Washington Wildlife and Recreation Coalition's work is far from done. Nor is recession any excuse for slowing down.
"With our population growth and people staying home because of (economic conditions), we need outdoor recreation opportunities, close to home, more than ever," said Lowry.