City gathering comments on wildlife refuge plan
SNOHOMISH - The parks board heard from about 15 residents on a draft wildlife refuge plan that will be finalized this year and incorporated within the city’s parks master plan.
The city wants to make wildlife refuge areas for the public to view animals in their natural environment more accessible. Just inside city limits at the west end of town at the northwest side of the Snohomish River Bridge is one such viewing site under consideration. The site has a nearly one mile path along the river. Public access to the path, completed in 2011, offers opportunities to watch birds and other animals living in the nearby marsh. The marsh is owned by the Pilchuck Audubon Society.
The marsh is largely undeveloped and would stay that way in the wildlife refuge plan, which is being developed by the city and Pilchuck Audubon Society.
The hour-long time set aside for public comment at the parks board meeting last week focused largely on whether to allow dogs in this area, an issue that has strong opinions on both sides.
Thom Peters is the nephew of the original owner of the marsh property, Dirk Graafstra, and remembers playing with his cousins in the area as a young boy. He is opposed to allowing dogs there.
City project manager Ann Stanton said the collective input could mean dogs would be prohibited from the area in the final plan.
“It’s the same problem as in other parks: some dog users don’t pick up after their pet,” Stanton said. Additionally, she said, some owners let their pets off their leash, allowing them to get into nearby waste leftover from the treatment plant.
Part of the marsh site, now a meadow, has high levels of waste dating from 1958 to 1998 and is “not appropriate in its current state” for public use, according to city documents. The hazardous area is bordered only by side slopes to restrict access. Additional physical restrictions and visible signage about the waste may be included in the final plan.
City documents indicate that removing the old waste is possible but would likely be very expensive.
Residents at the meeting also voiced support for making the area more user-friendly and convenient by adding items such as more signs, benches and trails.
“It’s really an unimproved area,” Stanton said. “It’s more like a state forest, and people have a little bit of a different expectation when they’re at a city park.”
Recommendations from residents will be considered by the parks board in developing the final refuge plan, which it will present to the City Council for adoption this summer. Stanton said limited improvements could happen quite quickly after that.
“The city budget will be small, and the budget (for the wildlife refuge) would be equally small,” Stanton said.
Some improvements might be donated through volunteer work or Eagle Scout projects, Stanton said.
Another chance for the public to weigh in on the refuge plan is currently scheduled for April 24. Comments from the public also can be submitted anytime to Ann Stanton via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Peters said he couldn’t be happier with the city’s goal to designate the marsh area as a wildlife refuge. He said he’d like to see it be “kept along the lines of passive recreation.”
He said growing up he remembers an abundance of wildlife in the area: raccoons, ducks, weasels, rabbits, great blue heron and much more.
“When I was 11, I was frog-hunting with my cousin near a little cove in the river,” Peters said. “I looked down and there was a sturgeon, I could have reached right down and touched it. It looked like a prehistoric monster. It was bigger than an 11-year-old, that’s for sure.”
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