Fundraising effort launched for Fern Cove ed center

Fern Cove, one of the Island’s most significant parks ecologically and historically, could soon have a hub for environmental education, thanks to a seed grant and a fundraising effort just getting under way.

Tucked away in a curve of Cedarhurst Road, the Vashon park is an unspoiled spread of forest and undergrowth, two meandering creeks emptying into an alluvial fan and one historical residence on the northwest edge of Vashon.

There, Shinglemill Creek spills westward into the Puget Sound. It’s the least developed salmon-bearing stream in King County, and environmentalists are fighting to keep it that way. About 200 yards away is the 1912 residence of one of the state’s first female physicians, Belle Baldwin.

The Vashon Park District recently finished renovating the Baldwin House and now rents the home to vacationers. Just up the hill is the residence’s one-room carriage house — and People for Puget Sound has big plans for it as well.

The nonprofit received a $5,000 grant in May to make improvements on the structure. Staff are spearheading a fundraising campaign to raise $25,000 to $45,000 more — bringing potential donors to the park to tour the park and the carriage house so they can see how special it is, she said.

“We love that we’ve got that holistic opportunity down there,” said Lisa Jaguzny, deputy director of People for Puget Sound. “Fern Cove is obviously an amazing way to learn about the Puget Sound ecosystem. In the mud flat, you can talk a lot about what’s going on in Puget Sound. ... We would love to be able to provide Islanders with some physical shelter down there.”

Within months, staff and volunteers will take the first physical steps towards creating an environmental education “centerpiece” in the white-and-green, barn-style carriage house, Jaguzny said.

“At this point, we’d like to get the carriage house cleaned up — a paint job and scraping off the moss, clean off the mud and improve the drainage,” she said.

Once the carriage house is ready to be used as an educational center, interpretive signs will be installed inside it.

Signs will be designed by People for Puget Sound staff, specifically for Fern Cove, “identifying some of the critters, some of the plants, talking about mud flats and the geography of the area,” Jaguzny said.

The center will not have open hours every day, but will be available by pre-arrangement, she said. It will offer environmental information for all ages, and some specifically for the younger set.

She’s approached leaders at the Vashon-Maury Island Land Trust and the Vashon Audubon to see if they’d like to be included in the carriage house project, and both responded positively.

Tom Dean, executive director of the land trust, said he was glad People for Puget Sound was bringing its “energy” to the park, he added that the two nonprofits’ possible collaboration on the carriage house project was “a little bit of an experiment.”

Jaguzny and Dean had agreed that the land trust would have space set aside in the carriage house for its maps and educational materials, and if the land trust had environmental events at Fern Cove, would be able to use the space.

“I think this is good for the carriage house itself, because it needs some care, and just like with the Baldwin House, it’s better to be using it, and then people get to see it,” he said.

So far, Dean said the nonprofit had no such programs, but perhaps will implement one once the carriage house is completed.

He said this partnership is the first of its kind for the two organizations.

In 2000, People for Puget Sound nominated the Maury Island Aquatic Reserve for its protected status and the land trust supported that action, he said.

“That was a place where our interests crossed paths,” Dean said.

Kathryn True, co-chair of education at Vashon Audubon, said the environmental organization is very interested in being incorporated into the educational education aspect of People for Puget Sound’s project, but that their involvement is “still in the planning stages.”

“Audubon is excited about this partnership and where it might go,” she said.

She said Fern Cove is a “great place” for bird-watching, peaceful and popular with wading birds.

Because the park is such a sensitive ecosystem, officials said although they are glad the project will educate Islanders and attract visitors to the park, it’s important that the habitat be preserved.

The environmental education center “will be a very nice addition to that park,” said Wendy Braicks, executive director of the Vashon Park District.

“We don’t want too much traffic — we don’t want to overrun it,” she added. “I think we can provide opportunities for people to learn about the park without doing damage to the environment there” with cooperation between the park district, People for Puget Sound and the land trust.

Jaguzny, too, said she’s looking forward to expanding programming at Fern Cove but will work to preserve the delicate balance of nature there.

“There’s a fine line between bringing passion to the area and bringing too much traffic,” she said. “It’s in a quiet neighborhood and we don’t want to disrupt that.”

Jaguzny said her intent is to increase the “depths of experience” for those who come to the park — what she called a “value added” approach — instead of trying to drum up interest, bringing Islanders to the 14-acre grove en masse.

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