It takes a village to nurture a creek – the Fauntleroy Watershed Council can’t do it alone

(Photo by Dennis Hinton)

By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor

Every fall, volunteers watch Fauntleroy Creek for signs of coho salmon swimming home to spawn.

The creek is one of just a few in the city to which salmon still return.

markahlness(“Wally,” a 2016 Fauntleroy Creek coho photographed by Mark Ahlness)

It’s hospitable again thanks to human helping hands decades ago, from volunteers who formed the Fauntleroy Watershed Council.

As they celebrate the council’s 20th anniversary, the dedicated volunteers at the heart of the group are hoping now to welcome more neighbors into the fold – whether for one-time events or recurring involvement. There’s much to be done – today, for example, volunteers were out clearing logs from the mouth of the creek (top photo), so any returning spawners don’t face a “roadblock.”

And earlier this month, we sat in on their most recent semimonthly meeting, a casual celebration combined with updates and business. Attendees gathered on the patio at the home of longtime volunteers (and creek neighbors) Judy Pickens and Phil Sweetland.

A highlight was a presentation by two very young volunteers – sisters Estela and Vivian Martin, Arbor Heights Elementary students who recently studied dog waste in the watershed along the trails of Fauntleroy Park, through which much of the creek passes. We reported on their work back in May.

(WSB photo from May)

At the meeting, they presented their findings from six monthly surveys along the trail. April was the worst for people not picking up after their dogs – 17 spots. The monthly average was 11. The sisters also engaged in education, via temporary placement of small signage in the park; they reported that half of the people they saw had their dogs off-leash. Their findings also incorporated background research – the oft-cited statistic that Seattle has more dogs than children; the theory that some people added dogs to their family due to pandemic isolation.

Their presentation also offered suggestions for the Watershed Council to more effectively communicate and connect with the community – such as website updates, perhaps park signage that promotes the website and volunteering, and in a fusion of those ideas, bringing on a digital-media volunteer. Plus – get more kids involved!

Vivian and Estela got a rousing round of applause when they concluded their presentation, They weren’t the first to study dog waste in the park – Pickens told them they are the “latest in a long line of student scientists who’ve done this project.” It’s been an ongoing issue for the council, which incorporated the girls’ work into the latest report:

The young volunteers were presented with certificates honoring their contributions. Volunteering might not make you rich, but it can provide a wealth of appreciation – and knowledge that you’re helping something that can’t speak for itself – in this case, the creek salmon. Anything in the park can wash into the creek, noted council member Peggy Cummings.

Because the creek runs through a park, the volunteers’ work intersects with city agencies including Seattle Parks, whose Carol Baker was in attendance. They talked with her about an ongoing drainage issue near the Cambridge Street entrance. Plans to address it are progressing slowly, Baker said. Talk turned to how to warn parkgoers that the trail in that area is a little “rough,” and whether signage might be a good idea.

Stewardship of the creek also can mean advocating for its interests in other arenas. Pickens is on the Community Advisory Group for the Fauntleroy ferry terminal replacement project, “looking out for the creek,” since its mouth is just south of the dock. Not only is she keeping an eye on the scope of the project, but also on construction plans, since runoff from the worksite would drain into near-shore habitat. Improved drainage in the finished project would be a boon, she added, as vehicles’ contribution to toxic runoff is so detrimental to fish (as recent research about tire dust showed).

Uphill from the ferry dock, they’re also watching over a pocket garden at Fauntleroy Schoolhouse. A now-closed school was going to maintain it, explained Cummings. The garden is “struggling but still going,” in need of mulch and fencing.

Another item of business: Refilling brochure holders at the park.

And then a discussion of what’s at the heart of this report: The quest for new volunteers. It’s tough to get commitments, observed Dennis Hinton. But they’re optimistic the opportunities will resonate with people looking for a meaningful way to get involved, whether for a one-time event or a recurring involvement. It’s a challenge for other watershed groups around the city too, Pickens noted. There’s a specific time in life when volunteering makes the most sense, Cummings suggested – somewhere between the “too busy with my family” years and “too old to keep doing this” years.

Then again, they’ve had volunteers of all ages – Vivian and Estela, for example – so they’re open to help from anyone and everyone.

As the afternoon shadows moved across the patio, the meeting wrapped up. Pickens promised us a list of the ways you can get involved – and here it is:

The Fauntleroy Watershed Council always welcomes fresh energy and ideas, whether for a one-time project or for a while. Contact us through to explore volunteering for any of these tasks:

-Clean kiosks and brochure holders at Barton and 97th entrances to Fauntleroy Park and update photos.

-Work with the city’s Tree Ambassadors program to create a tree walk highlighting interesting/significant trees in Fauntleroy Park.

-Plan, create, and install laminated wayfinding signage at key locations in Fauntleroy Park.

-Help with salmon releases in Fauntleroy Park (May).

-Be a docent for open houses at the fish ladder during spawning season (Oct./Nov.).

-Join the watershed council to plan and coordinate activities; meets just five times/year.

(Also – salmon-watchers, starting October 16th; contact Pickens directly at if you’re interested.)

You’re also welcome to attend Fauntleroy Watershed Council meetings – the next one is tentatively set for November 11th, likely online. (And the council’s work is funded by donations, which can be made here.)

If you’ve never been to Fauntleroy Creek and want to take a look before you consider whether to help out, there are a couple places to take a look – walk into Fauntleroy Park from the Barton entrance, or go to the lookout just south of the end of SW Director at Upper Fauntleroy Way, across the street and uphill from the ferry dock.

7 Replies to "It takes a village to nurture a creek - the Fauntleroy Watershed Council can't do it alone"

  • Sunflower September 21, 2021 (7:19 am)

    Thank you to all who are helping the salmon of this creek. I walked by the mouth the other day and wondered if there would be a clean up of those logs and also salmon watching soon. Good journey salmon, hope it’s a great season volunteers :)

  • September 21, 2021 (10:10 am)

    Aww, I love this. Thank you, thank you to all the amazing volunteer and the incredible students!

  • Joe Z September 21, 2021 (11:22 am)

    Curious to know if any action has been taken (or is planned to be taken) to reduce the toxic runoff from chemicals found in car tires that are believed to be killing salmon?Seems like a shame to do all this work and have the salmon die anyway. 

  • judy p September 21, 2021 (12:36 pm)

    Runoff from vehicles is one of my top priorities – and the state’s – for upgrading the ferry terminal’s trestle and transfer span.  Newer terminals have systems for collecting runoff so that rain doesn’t carry it into the Sound.  We and the salmon are fortunate that so much of the creek system is well-vegetated  public land and so relatively protected from street and other runoff that plagues other systems in the city.

  • Lori Hinton September 22, 2021 (9:50 am)

    Thank you for all you do! The salmon thank you too:)

  • Abi September 25, 2021 (10:14 am)

    Good job Estela and Vivian!!  Thanks for making a difference and helping the creek salmon!  Hope more students will get involved! You girls are real stars! 

  • George September 25, 2021 (11:21 am)

    Kudos girls. You’re setting an example for all of us, regardless of our age, to become involved in saving this magnificent planet! 

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