Qwuloolt Estuary will pay dividends for generations to come | GUEST OPINION

With a couple of shovels on a beautiful August morning, a two decades-old vision moved a whole lot closer to reality.

That vision, to restore historic tidal flows back to the 400-acre Qwuloolt Estuary spread across the city of Marysville and Tulalip Tribes lands, will bring an environmental and economic restoration that will pay dividends for generations to come. When complete, the Qwuloolt (kwoo-LOOLT) Estuary Restoration Project will be the largest tidal marsh restoration project ever completed in our state.

With trucks rolling through town to and from the project site southeast of downtown Marysville, we would like to take the opportunity to tell you a bit more about the project and how our communities will benefit when it’s completed.

More than 100 years ago, farmers diked and drained the estuary to create new arable lands. The wetlands, once a vital ecosystem for fish, birds and plant life, dried up. Now, dozens of city, tribal, state and federal partners have joined community volunteers and nonprofits to roll back the damage.

Restoring the wetlands requires an integrated approach. That includes small-scale efforts like replanting native plants along the shoreline, and big-scale efforts like filling in drainage ditches and building new levees. When the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers breaches the current levees along Ebey Slough next year, the marsh topography and tidal channels will be restored to their historic natural conditions.

The restored habitat will be a huge boon to wildlife. The Qwuloolt will once again be a flourishing breeding environment for endangered Chinook salmon, bull trout, steelhead trout, coho salmon, cutthroat trout and other migratory fish that leave salt water to spawn in fresh water. The improvement in water quality and revitalization of local plant life will bring more migratory and resident birds back to the wetlands.

This project isn’t just about protecting the environment. It’s about protecting our economy. For hundreds of years, people of this region have depended on a thriving fish population for food and trade. When restored, the Qwuloolt Estuary will become transitional habitat for juvenile salmon preparing for their journey into the ocean. Restoring these 400 acres of habitat will help restore the fish population throughout the Puget Sound and in the ocean off of the Pacific Northwest.

And you’ll have a chance to see it all yourself. One of the best parts about the project is that the public will be able to access the estuary.

The city of Marysville is constructing an interpretive trail system through the Qwuloolt that will open this fall, enhancing the neighborhoods surrounding the wetlands. Starting from the trailhead at Ebey Waterfront Park downtown, the 3-mile round-trip trail of mostly packed gravel with some paved sections will follow the scenic banks of Ebey Slough into the estuary. And students will be able to witness the habitat restoration firsthand, giving them a valuable tool to learn about how we interact with the ecosystems around us.

The area will also provide public access for passive recreation such as kayaking, canoeing and even some boating at high tide.

We won’t see all the benefits of this restoration overnight. It’s going to take a few more years of hard work, and many more for wildlife to return in great numbers.

Qwuloolt means “great marsh” in the Tulalip Tribes’ Lushootseed language. Thanks to the dedicated work of so many in this local, state and federal partnership, we are taking a big step to once again making this estuary great.

Rep. Rick Larsen can be reached via his website at http://larsen.house.gov. Mayor Jon Nehring can be reached at mayor@marysvillewa.gov or 360-363-8091.

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