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The Story of the Swamp

Yesler Swamp is loved by birdwatchers, nature lovers, walkers, and anyone who knows and enjoys the greater Union Bay Natural Area. But unlike most of the Union Bay Natural Area, Yesler Swamp is still feeling the effects of the Yesler Sawmill, established over 150 years ago.

Because the Yesler Swamp lies in a basin, most of this damage is not apparent to the casual observer. What we see from the streets– beautiful treetops, the sun on the lake, an active and thriving bird population– does not necessarily reflect the actual state of the swamp. Like the wetlands themselves, there is more going on beneath the surface.

A closer look will reveal the English Ivy that chokes the trunks of the poplar trees, and the thick stands of invasive Canary Grass deeper in the wetland. Garbage lies on the forest floor.

By bringing attention to this long-neglected area, we hope to build community support for its ongoing restoration and conservation.

This is not a preservation effort; the area is not a pristine wilderness far from human encroachment. Instead, this is an effort to responsibly conserve and restore a remarkable natural sanctuary in the heart of the city.

The proposed trail represents an effort to draw attention to the beauty of this area, and thus create a sustainable source of support for its ongoing conservation, and to direct existing foot-traffic onto a route that has less negative impact on the surrounding wetlands.

To learn more about the trail, read the Design Proposal by Susan Black and Associates, our design team.


Wildlife On The Yesler Swamp Trail

In response to neighbourhood concerns about the impact of the proposed Yesler Swamp Trail on wildlife, UW Professor Kern Ewing assembled a team of wildlife experts to visit the Yesler Swamp. In January, the four wildlife biologists toured the site. The experts are:

  • Steve West, a professor in the UW School of Forest Resources specializing in vertebrate ecology and conservation;
  • Russell Link, a wildlife biologist with the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife and the author of two books on landscaping for urban wildlife;
  • Jennifer Ruesink, an ecologist and professor in the UW Department of Biology;
  • John Marzluff, a professor in the UW School of Forest Resources specializing in wildlife-habitat relationships, avian social ecology and demography.

They agreed that the benefits of attention to the swamp, especially the control of invasive plants, would outweigh any potential damage from a boardwalk. In fact, a boardwalk could benefit wildlife by curtailing the impact of humans.

The experts made several specific observations and suggestions for designing the trail area to protect wildlife:

  • The boardwalk will help preserve the fragile nature of the swamp by giving visitors a way to view the swamp without tromping through it and disturbing the terrain. There is some erosion near the west entrance where visitors are currently walking down a fairly steep slope.
  • The boardwalk will be high enough to permit small animals—e.g., mice and voles, to go under it. These animals forage the area for food, and should not be impeded by man-made barriers.
  • When construction is ready to begin, it will not be undertaken between March and June when birds are nesting. A nesting window as long as six to eight months may be needed. To protect the water fowl, the boardwalk will not follow the shoreline. Instead, spurs will stretch out towards the water for wildlife viewing.
  • Snags for nesting critters will be left in place, and the natural buffers along Surber will be enhanced.

Professor Ruesink concluded her letter to Kern Ewing by expressing excitement about rehabilitating the site:

My last comment is simply one of excitement that, at some time beyond our lifespan, the gymnosperms (spruce, cedar, yew) planted into Yesler Swamp could grow into a lowland swamp forest. This habitat was likely the first to be removed by European colonists 150-200 years ago. It would stand as a remarkable model for lakeside residents and visitors to help evaluate their own interactions with the urban landscapes that they shape.

Read the rest of the letter from Professor Ruesink.

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