Harmony. Lots can come to mind when you really think about it. But I’m talking environmental harmony. I visited, photographed, chatted at and volunteered on the Marra Farm Giving Garden for the first time a couple weeks ago. It was one of those rare Seattle spring days where the sun lingers all day and the temperature is just right. While I poked around the farm (before getting down and dirty planting tomatoes), I kept the idea of Hamm Creek in the back of my mind.
About three days before my visit, I talked to Nate Moxley, Lettuce Link Program Manager at Solid Ground, about where I might find the creek once I arrived at the farm. He explained to me exactly where I could find it. I mean, the exact placement of the creek from any standing position, whether you’re facing north, south, east or west; are 300 feet from 4th Avenue South; next to the tallest scarecrow, etc. Let me tell you: I still missed it. After slowly exploring the farm, I finally circled back to where I’d started.
Kyong Soh, Lettuce Link’s Marra Farm Coordinator, was actively running around, filling new compost bins here and checking on tomato plants there. I asked her where I might find Hamm Creek.
“Oh, it’s right behind you!” she said. I did a mental face palm. How could I miss it? Was it that obvious? But when I turned around, I didn’t feel so dumb: No, in fact, it is not visible at all. Many people could be and are presently oblivious to this creek. Although it runs above ground (or has been “daylighted”) for about 200 feet right next to the popular neighborhood farm, it is shrouded by large bushes, smallish trees and tall grasses.
First, Kyong led me about 15 feet to the left of the main entrance, where we crouched down beneath shrubbery in order to avoid nettles in our faces and any exposed skin. This small clearing afforded us a view of darkened, lightly rushing water. The second entryway was a little more open, but still unassuming from the outside and didn’t provide much light for observing the critters and plant life contained within. The third entrance to the creek was by far my favorite: The short walk down requires little squatting or cautionary walking. A little sun peeked in through the overgrown greenery and a modest tree arched its thin branches over the stream, protecting it from daylight.
Best of all, we witnessed this tranquil setting at its finest, part of why the creek was daylighted in the first place: A man, no older than 25, sat by the creek with his bike perched next to him, relaxing and snacking in the shade, apparently taking a break from the day and choosing to do so in this serene environment – a sliver of green land in the otherwise largely industrial neighborhood of South Park, Seattle. A neighborhood with a rich history in activism and community gardening, but also known for continuously polluted air and topsoil from surrounding manufacturing facilities – and known for the contaminated Duwamish River, a superfund site which it is estimated will take 27 years to clean up.
The project to restore this creek has been a long one: What started as a trash and litter cleanup in the 1980s turned into a multi-objective restorative project spearheaded by the late environmental activist John Beal. The goals? To reestablish the Lost Fork of Hamm Creek at Marra Farm, part of the larger Hamm Creek watershed which encompasses at least an acre of land, as an ecosystem, complete with native plants, bugs, birds and even salmon rearing. Although a lot has been done over a span of over 30 years, Nate points out that after the energy put into the Lost Fork of Hamm Creek by John Beal and the daylighting process in 2000, “Over the last few years, there hasn’t been ongoing stewardship. Until now.”
Alas, after years of hard work from the community and beyond, salmon fry cannot survive in this ecosystem if people still litter or pollute the water. Alternatively, residents of the South Park community cannot enjoy the benefits of the creek if the water quality is unsafe. So now, Solid Ground has taken on the task of ongoing restorative efforts. Thanks to a generous grant from King Conservation District, as well as additional support from the Subaru of America Foundation and Russell Family Foundation, Lettuce Link staff are building ecosystems and community around the Lost Fork. By integrating our existing partnership with Concord International Elementary School, the creek is a learning tool for students. Last spring, Lettuce Link’s Education Coordinator Amelia Swinton used science-based curricula put together by Mountains to Sound Greenway with 5th graders during classes at Marra Farm, incorporating water quality safety testing including measuring the pH levels, temperature and turbidity.
There have also been ongoing discussions between Lettuce Link staff and community members about the design and content for new signage around the creek in order to enhance general knowledge about the safety and history of the creek. “We want to increase awareness about it. People have passively used the creek. You know, on a hot day they might stick their feet in it or kids might be playing in it. So we wanted to make sure that the water was safe,” Nate says.
Regarding the future, “We plan to take out invasive species like English ivy and Himalayan Blackberry and plant over 200 native plants in October,” Nate tells me. And as for releasing fry into the streams, “The pipes downstream might be too clogged with sediment for the salmon to successfully pass through. Hatcheries may not give up their fry unless they’re sure the salmon can thrive.” But there’s still a possibility for another salmon run in Seattle’s backyard. “Right now, we’re doing more research on the conditions downstream,” he assures me.
I hope it is possible to have a living, breathing ecosystem, one where plants, animals and humans can live in harmony. If one can build community with the help of a 200-foot-long splinter of running water, then I’m a believer.
Want to help with the Hamm Creek Restoration Project? Join us on South Park Saturdays, the 1st Saturday of every month, to get involved at Hamm Creek and the Marra Farm Giving Garden or contact firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.