Learning center dedication highlights 11-year effort

MARYSVILLE Allen Creek Elementary School fifth-grade teacher Steve Malmstead said it was a headline in a local paper that launched what became a sort of personal crusade.

The headline announced the "dirty truth" about Allen Creek, the waterway that inspired the name of Malmstead's school. He made a quick decision that he and his students would investigate just how polluted Allen Creek really was.

"We wanted to be part of the solution," Malmstead added.

When helping Allen Creek turned out to be impractical, Malmstead turned his attention to nearby Jones Creek, which partly runs through an 11-acre parcel owned by the Marysville School District.

On June 4, over a decade after that news headline spurred him into action, Malmstead and others involved in the project helped dedicate the Jones Creek Outdoor Learning Center.

Situated roughly behind Glennwood Mobile Estates off Fourth Street NE, the center serves as an outdoor environmental classroom for youth from around the city.

"It's really been a student driven project," Malmstead said.

His first group of students successfully wrote a grant proposal to the Stilly-Snohomish Fisheries Enhancement Task Force. The group provided Malmstead's entire class with rubber boots for stomping through the muddy banks of the creek, boots that students still use today.

"It was just a lot of fun," said Marysville school student Nate Verge, now 17, but a member of one of the first classes to work along the creek. Nate recalled helping to clear away brush that was as tall as he was.

Over the years, the Stilly-Snohomish group has become heavily involved in the Jones Creek work, helping teach classes and promoting service projects, said the fisheries' Cara Ianni. Numerous other groups and organizations, from the city of Marysville to the Tulalip and Stillaguamish tribes, also have been involved with various aspects of the center. The so-called AQWA (Allen/Quilceda Watershed Action) Team consists of members of many different groups.

With the support and guidance of those organizations, student work along the creek has ranged from planting trees to creating trails. The most recent major addition to the growing effort came via Lakewood High School student and member of Boy Scouts of America Troop 81 Travis Givler, 16.

"I've always been quite active in the outdoors," Travis said regarding his motivation in building a large, permanent rain shelter just a short distance from Jones Creek.

The structure was completed last summer with materials donated by the Tulalip Tribes and the work of Troop 81. Ianni said the shelter greatly increased the ability of the school district and others to conduct outdoor classes. The project eventually should help Travis earn the rank of Eagle Scout and a plaque honoring him will be placed on the structure.

"It's important that places like this exist," said Marysville School Board of Directors member Michael Kundu.

Kunda said students and others had seen signs of various types of wildlife at the site, ranging from fish, particularly salmon in the creek, to deer and coyotes along the shores.

The Jones Creek work has not always run smoothly. Malmstead talked a lot about a second headline, this time over a story announcing that vandals had destroyed a large number of student-planted trees. But Malmstead and others persevered and fencing now helps protect the area. For the future, Malmstead's most recent class was able to obtain $2,000 in funding from the Marysville Kiwanis.

For both the city and the school district, the efforts along Jones Creek serve a practical purpose beyond educating students. Ianni said the city's involvement helps Marysville meet the education and outreach requirements that, by state mandate, must be part of the city's storm water program.

At the same time, the city was able to offer the schools a major break in the cost of treating storm and water runoff coming from district properties.

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