Northwest NEWS

July 24, 2000

Local News

Water Tenders kayak the Sammamish River

Water Tenders

Terry Lavender (left, wearing the hat) speaks with kayakers at Blyth Park during the lunch break.
Photo by Wendy Walsh.

by Wendy Walsh, special to the Weekly

   In a unique collaboration between local citizens and County officials, Woodinville Water Tenders sponsored a float trip July 8 down the Sammamish River. There were 10 kayaks and two canoes, with about 20 paddlers.

   Terry Lavender, organizer of the event, works with both local citizens groups and officials from several counties on the WIRA 8 Council to develop responses to the Endangered Species Act. She also volunteers her time on numerous committees, trying to find practical solutions to the problems of providing habitat for people and fish.

   "Most people don't realize how fragile these systems have become," remarks Lavender. "So we have formed a network of people up and down the creeks who really care." Lavender lives in the Bear Creek area, and as a native Northwesterner, she cares deeply about her heritage, and wants to protect what was here when she was born.

   Representing King County on the trip were: Brent Lackey, Sammamish Basin Stream Steward; John Lombard, WIRA 8 coordinator; Debbie Lester, scientist; and Ray Heller, Bear Creek Basin Steward. Also present was Gwen Maxfield, Woodinville Water District Commisioner.

   Restoration projects were one of the focuses of the group, and Brent Lackey was able to explain what the issues are in making the river a better habitat for fish, as the group paddled along the shores.

   The Sammamish River is an important fish passageway which has been altered considerably from its original pristine state in the early 1900s. Until the 1960s, flood control was the primary reason the Corps of Engineer straightened the river and lowered the water levels.

   Unfortunately, while flood control was successful, the water temperature increases have been detrimental to salmon returns. Restoration has focused on providing shade to the river, as well as siltation control. Many areas are gaining good buffers, but some projects are still closer to the river than is healthy for the stream.

   Some of the group on the trip, led by Ray Heller, started in Lake Sammamish and kayaked through Marymoor Park, which was so natural that it was hard to imagine urban areas being nearby. Blue and green herons and other waterfowl were prevalent, and the foliage was dense. "This is wonderful habitat," said Heller.

   The rest of the group started from the boat ramp at 116th, and there were numerous signs of restoration projects from there down to Wilmot Park. After that, the character of the river began to change toward urbanization through Bothell and Kenmore. Clearly the fortunate people who live along the river enjoy the waterway, but there was some concern in the group about chemical run-off from landscaping activities.

   Both Brent Lackey and John Lombard expressed appreciation for the special collaborative relationship that the Water Tenders have with the County. "We think of the Bear Creek people as an example of what ideal local stewardship is about, and wish more community groups could work together like this."

   The Water Tenders have been active for over 20 years in providing education and protection of Sammamish Basin stream systems, with a special focus on Bear Creek Valley, which hosts a major indigenous salmon run. Each fall, streamside talks are provided by volunteers who work with Ray Heller to share the miracle of the returning salmon populations.

   Terry Lavender remarked, "The most important thing about our float trip down the Sammamish River, aside from learning, was that we had fun!"