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SoundCorps begins extensive restoration project on Maury Island

Public Lands Commissioner Peter Goldmark, center, talks with Puget SoundCorps crew members at the Maury Island Marine Park last week. - Natalie Johnson/Staff Photo
Public Lands Commissioner Peter Goldmark, center, talks with Puget SoundCorps crew members at the Maury Island Marine Park last week.
— image credit: Natalie Johnson/Staff Photo

This month 30 young adults in hard hats and work boots descended on Maury Island to begin what some say is the largest environmental restoration Vashon has ever seen.

Over the next year, the Puget SoundCorps members will work four days a week at the Maury Island Marine Park, a former mining site purchased by the county in 1994. Crews will remove harmful invasive plants, plant native seedlings and expand the park’s trail system. A small group will focus on the aquatic reserve that borders the park, removing debris, testing the health of the marine habitat and identifying restoration projects.

The $2.2 million effort on Maury comes by way of a $30 million jobs bill the state Legislature passed last year, which included funding for nine Puget SoundCorps projects throughout the region. The marine park is the largest single site to see work by the SoundCorps, a part of the Washington Conservation Corps program.

During a tour of the site last week attended by state and county officials, Commissioner of Public Lands Peter Goldmark addressed the corps members, who are 18 to 25 years old. The workers will earn minimum wage while on the job and will receive a $5,500 education stipend to use toward college tuition or repayment of student loans.

“We can’t clean up and restore the sound without folks like you,” Goldmark told the crew.

In an interview, Goldmark, who is up for reelection, said it was special for him to see the restoration taking place on Maury Island. In 2009 Goldmark, newly elected to the statewide post, attempted to prevent Glacier Northwest from expanding mining operations at its site just south of the marine park, asking the company to prove its project was environmentally sound before proceeding. As the project hung in the balance, a federal judge halted construction, but Goldmark played a “small part,” he said, in protecting the nearby site.

“That effort, and seeing this great work to restore the uplands and tideland — it’s fulfilling,” he said.

The crew’s work at the park is already visible. On Wednesday workers cleared a large hill near the shoreline of Scotch broom and began to do the same on a nearby slope. A few workers on the beach — part of a separate crew also funded by the jobs bill — used buckets to sift through sand and gravel, looking for forage fish eggs, a sign of health at the shoreline. They’ll collect samples and complete shoreline restoration projects all along the Maury Island Aquatic Reserve, a protected area which includes all of Quartermaster Harbor and the southeast shore of Maury.

The bulk of the upland crew’s efforts will be focused on the 70-acre mining scar, as it’s called on the site, where earth was once removed and invasive plants have taken hold. Workers will replace the rampant Scotch broom, blackberry and other noxious plants with about 70,000 native trees and shrubs. The will also build new trails at the expansive park and improve existing ones.

Of the nearly 30 young people and five crew leaders at the park, only two are from Vashon. Organizers say they made hiring Islanders a priority for the project and were prepared to hire up to half of the crew members from Vashon, but Islanders simply didn’t show. Despite efforts to recruit Vashon residents, the state only received three applications from Vashon, said Nick Mott, Washington Conservation Corps program director. One applicant didn’t meet the age requirement, and the other two were hired. Mott said he thought there simply weren’t many young people on Vashon looking for work.

Most crew members are from the Tacoma and Seattle areas, he said.

“They’re not on the Island, but you still would consider them local,” Mott said.

The SoundCorps crew isn’t the first to begin restoration at the marine park. For years volunteers from People for Puget Sound and other groups have tackled invasives at the park, and some areas are dotted with small, recently planted trees and bushes marked with orange tape.

Tina Miller, volunteer coordinator for King County Parks, said the SoundCorps, because of its sheer size and long stay at the park, will be able to complete more restoration than has ever been done there.

At the same time, she said, there’s much to done at the 300-acre park, which was damaged from years of mining operations. In the next year the crew will be able to touch only about a third of the site.

“It’s setting the stage for an actual ecological restoration to occur,” she said.

Miller said organizers are already hoping the state will continue the jobs bill funding for at least another year, something that would allow SoundCorps to do significantly more on Maury.

“It would be a huge boost for this project,” she said.

 

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