By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor
Off Puget Way – one of the few streets that connect to busier-than-ever West Marginal Way – a parcel of land is in the process of healing from decades of serving as a dumping ground.
A group of passionate volunteers are working not only to heal the land, but to use it to help heal injustices done to the area’s First People.
They call the site – three and a half acres with the official address 4818 15th SW [map] – The Heron’s Nest. Its entrance off Puget Way, a short distance uphill from West Marginal, is marked by simple signage with the outline of the iconic Great Blue Heron, which has long nested along the nearby Duwamish River. Much of the site is covered with deciduous trees, but a clearing near the entrance holds a greenhouse, outhouses, even a screen for outdoor movies that the Heron’s Nest has hosted this summer.
Next month, they’re organizing the biggest Heron’s Nest event yet – an outdoor dinner and auction to help make their dream a reality: Raising the money to buy the land and give it (back) to the Duwamish Tribe, which relinquished its tens of thousands of acres of land in a 19th-century treaty and now owns only the site of its Longhouse at 4705 W. Marginal Way SW.
That site is a short walk away on a new trail that’s part of the Heron’s Nest Project, explains Amanda Lee, field director for The Heron’s Nest Project and board member for the nonprofit Shared Spaces Foundation. We spoke with Lee at the site on a recent Saturday, our conversation punctuated by birdsong from the treetops and traffic noise rising up from the busy street down a steep slope at the property’s east edge.
The site currently is owned by a developer; it was owned for decades by the McFarland family and is still known to some as “the old McFarland property.” Lee first got involved with the site as a caretaker/security person two years ago. For years before that, the site was home to squatters, stolen cars, trash, and needles, Lee says; the cleanup filled dumpsters. The potential of the site – beyond holding single-family houses, for which it’s zoned – sparked the imagination. Some questions led to the discovery that the owner was “no longer invested in the project and wants it off their books.”
So if they can raise $1 million – it’s theirs. First, a $180,000 down payment. Their lease, with option to buy, runs through the end of the year.
We asked about the partnership with the Duwamish Tribe. Lee says that the tribe was told about the opportunity to buy the site but had limited funds and was focused on purchasing a parcel next to the Longhouse for expanded parking. But they’ve been talking about how to partner on stewardship of the land, including the outdoor education that The Heron’s Nest Project already has been offering, such as skill workshops and sustainable urban farming practices.
In a background document about the project, Lee writes, “This project is the first-ever repatriation attempt with respect to the Duwamish Tribe and would have significant impacts on the Tribe’s recognition claims. Now that the property has been cleaned up and new facilities have been built, there is ample space for meaningful community programming, education, social events, traditional practices, gardening/farming, and more.”
Now the challenge is to bring more people into the fold – introduce them to The Heron’s Nest, show them the value of the site as greenspace, education, culture. That can be done in small ways; they’re offering parts of the site as rentals for parties, meetings, classes, even camping. They’re continuing to offer events of their own at the site. And one big one is on the calendar for next month: Return the Land, a dinner and silent-auction fundraiser. They’ll be screening a documentary on that big outdoor screen, too.
Return the Land is happening at 5 pm Saturday, October 16th. Dinner is free; you can RSVP at HeronsNestOutdoor@Gmail.com. An option to participate virtually will be offered, too. But if you go in person, there’s much to see.
In the meantime, they’re also accepting online donations. And volunteer help is appreciated as they continue to work at the site, where Lee has logged thousands of hours – email contact is the same as the RSVP above, HeronsNestOutdoor@Gmail.com.