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Cari Simson, outreach and events coordinator for the Duwamish River Cleanup Coalition (DRCC), agrees. "We're never going to turn the clock back to the 1850s. It's important to keep industry here and work with them to do the right thing inside their gates and out in the community."
Our group of 17 kayakers four of them guides had set out on a bright August morning to circumnavigate Harbor Island and visit salmon restoration sites on the lower Duwamish River, a tour aimed at highlighting the unique urban nature interface of this highly industrial area, which is a federally listed Superfund site.
Shipping container cranes to our right and cruise ship loading platforms to our left, here wildlife and water are the only reminders of the original river. It once fanned out in a wide delta similar to the Nisqually south of Tacoma. Salt marshes and mudflats stretched from Beacon Hill to Duwamish Head in West Seattle, changing daily with the tides. The Duwamish Tribe lived here when the Egyptians were building pyramids; cedar longhouses up to 300 feet in length dotted the river delta when settlers arrived in the mid 1800s.
"Seal 12 o'clock," Whittaker said, pointing out an unmistakable ball like head. Harbor seals, California sea lions and sea otters are frequently spotted along this route.
"It's important to keep it industrial," Whittaker explained, using the country's largest cement plant as an example. "Moving all that gravel overland would destroy our roadways, and this industry keeps Seattle somewhat recession proof."
Now protected from the wind, we peacefully passed pilings coated in barnacles and mussels. Pigeon guillemots squealed as they surf landed like water skiers. Wearing black and white in the summer months, these seabirds nest under docks and in sandy banks.
An experienced kayak guide who opened Alki Kayak Tours in 2005, Whittaker is the tourism representative for the Washington State Oil Spill Advisory Council and sits on the citizens' advisory committee for the city's Shoreline Master Program update. He makes it a company priority to be "an additional set of eyes on the Sound looking for preventable ecological harm."
"People are interested in the industrial aspects of the Duwamish River and seeing how wildlife can exist and thrive here," Whittaker said. "A lot of Seattleites take this tour because the river has been cut off from us. This is the best way to see every aspect of it."
Beware of toxic materials. If you wade in the river or walk in the mud, wash your shoes off outside. Clean your children's and dogs' feet before going indoors. Aug. 27. Explore shoreline restoration areas, wildlife and birds, neighborhood history and Superfund sites (from a safe distance). Tour leaves from Duwamish Waterway Park (7900 Tenth Ave. S.) in South Park. Bring your own kayak: $10. Rent a kayak: $30.
A community advisory group involved in all aspects of the proposed Superfund cleanup, DRCC helps industries learn how to become better stewards not only by following pollution regulations, but by getting involved in restoration work and supporting community events. "There are a lot of interesting things here worth saving and preserving," Simson said.
"I'm surprised it's so green," said Gurmeet Singh, a first time kayaker who had never been out on the Duwamish. "This is not too far away from where I live, and I didn't even know about it."
One of these is the Herring's House Park wetland restoration project. Sitting on a shell midden, this was prime herring and salmon territory, as the ancient name indicates. More recently this land was home to one of the city's original lumber mills. The first step in restoring 11 acres of polluted tidelands was to replace its contaminated soils. Housing tribal offices and events, it will be open to the public this fall for art exhibits, music, lectures and permanent exhibits.
Whittaker directed us to the Herring's House shore, and we disembarked on a muddy swath of beach. As we slip slopped up the slope (flip flops not recommended), I pushed PCBs out of my mind, thankful for that replaced soil.
Saturday at Duwamish Waterway Park, 7900 Tenth Ave. S., in Seattle's South Park neighborhood.
A delicate balancing act on the Duwamish River
Local agencies, along with the federal Environmental Protection Agency, conservation groups and local neighbors, will join to celebrate the Duwamish River and educate visitors about its plight. The festival will feature updates on the Duwamish River Superfund cleanup, kayak tours, live entertainment (steel drum music, Mexican folk dancing and Duwamish Tribal youth dance), water taxi rides, free food, children's activities, health information, a toxic free nail salon, eco friendly car washes and an appearance by characters Bert the Salmon and the Mud Monster. Never eat crab, shellfish or bottom feeding fish from the Duwamish River.
We turned south into the East Waterway along Harbor Island, one of the largest man made islands in the world. To improve shipping access to river industries, by 1917 business moguls and civil engineers had removed 20 million cubic yards of mud and sand to change 10 miles of serpentine lower river into a canal 4.5 miles long. The transported earth formed this island.
Zigzagging through Harbor Island Marina, we spotted an osprey perched atop a mast. At least six pairs of these large raptors nest along the Duwamish (we saw two active nests atop light poles), their barbed feet perfect for nabbing fish. Blocking the channel, a tug nosed a barge into a new position, but the osprey eyed us more warily, accustomed to its home of constant movement and noise.
"It's going to be a beefy trip!" Greg Whittaker of Alki Kayak Tours shouted with a grin as he steered our double kayak from our launch point at West Seattle's Seacrest Park and out into Elliott Bay.
Herring's House is one in a corridor of seven lower river estuarine habitats built for migrating juvenile salmonids. Though far fewer than before, the fish return each year wild spawning and hatchery chum, coho, steelhead and cutthroat, as well as the endangered Puget Sound chinook. Cummings, coordinator of DRCC. "They provide places they can rest, hide from predators and eat." People for Puget Sound recently received funding for nine more such projects, and more funding is expected for additional habitat restoration for all species. "Rather than keeping people away from habitat areas, we want to make them more publicly accessible," Cummings said. Human use considerations include native plants, art, seating and interpretive signs to help people feel more welcome.
Important: Kayakers and others should not use any beach area unless it is designated public access.
I soon learned that "beefy" in this context meant navigating wind whipped waves across an open expanse of water. But the sun sparkled encouragement, and our group was all smiles as we headed toward a barge marked "HANJIN" piled high with shipping containers on the waterfront south of downtown the familiar sight taking on an appreciable immensity viewed from Buy Men Canada Goose Expedition Bonfire Australia our tiny craft. As a police boat sped past, a group of Caspian terns performed suicidal looking fishing dives ahead of us bright orange beaks pointed downward for vertical splashdowns.