For Immediate RELEASE: OK- It’s more than just a Press Release, this is a Project Narrative and a Big Thank YOU.
Recreation Northwest partners with Western’s Environmental Science Program for support of Welch Ecological Services annual mitigation reporting services.
December 21, 2020 Bellingham, WA
2020 Annual Mitigation Monitoring Report for Fairhaven Park Trails project. Community partnership provides WWU Huxley students with applicable field work and defrays labor to support pro bono services provided by natural resources consulting company Welch Ecological Services, LLC.
In 2017, Recreation Northwest’s stewardship project in Fairhaven Park witnessed the installation of an improved trail and wetland boardwalk that by-passed wetlands to provide safe public access to the community forest’s network of trails and connections beyond. It was also an environmental restoration effort that involved mitigation planting work and ongoing efforts to improve the places where we play as a segment of our Mission. Before this work was done, the area was a muddy mess- and getting worse.
Recreation Northwest and City of Bellingham Parks Department Fairhaven Park Trail and Wetland Boardwalk project required mitigation from the City of Bellingham and the US Army Corps of Engineers to compensate for critical areas impacted stemming from trail improvements. We created several distinct Native Plant Garden sites to rehabilitate, repair, and mitigate our impacts for the construction of the trail and wetland boardwalk crossing-that resulted in the trail being removed from the wetland. In addition to planting hundreds of native trees and shrubs, the wetland and drainage may now recover from habitual trail park usage. We have planted over 300 native plants on site and have decommissioned portions of the trail that formally traversed the wetland. Volunteers have also spent numerous hours removing blackberry, English ivy, and holly bushes to make room for more native plants.
Wetland and buffer mitigation helped to compensate for construction activities and trail improvements that resulted in a re-aligned and improved trail that crosses a forested wetland. The trail installation involved placement of a crushed rock trail within the wetland and buffer. A 40-foot steel boardwalk was installed across wetland and surface water drainage areas. The pre-existing degraded trail through forested wetland was abandoned and planted with many native trees and shrubs.
Mitigation requirements led us to maintain and monitor the plant inventory within the project. This map from our report lists our distinct mitigation areas in the wetland and buffer sections.
Since 2017, Recreation Northwest has been required to submit a Mitigation Monitoring Report (NWS-2017-61) for permits with US Army Corps of Engineers ref. NWS-2017-61 and City of Bellingham CAP2016-0049. Here’s the Project Vicinity map. As you can see from the report here: 2019 COB Fairhaven Trails Phase II Mitigation Year 2 (PDF) it takes a lot of work and there’s a lot of details. These reports were professionally prepared and submitted by Perry at Welch Ecological Services.
Project Partnership Overview
Wetland monitoring reports have been professionally prepared and submitted by Perry at Welch Ecological Services LLC. This year, which is monitoring project Year Three, Recreation Northwest was fortunate to engage students from Western Washington University to collect and summarize plant survival and native plant cover in the abandoned trail restoration areas. Recreation Northwest and Welch coordinated with WWU Huxley students to complete the annual monitoring at no cost to the organization. Recreation NW developed a community partnership that provided WWU Huxley students with applicable field work opportunity and defrayed labor cost to Recreation Northwest. This has been supported with pro bono services provided by Welch Ecological Services LLC. We thank both Perry Welch and Dr. John Rybczyk for agreeing to collaborate on this project during these tight and challenging Covid-19 times.
Perry has been our lead natural resource biologist providing assessment, permit compliance, and long-term monitoring for our project. Perry has many years of professional experience in wetlands, streams, fisheries biology and consulting.
Because of our challenging financial situation this year, Welch Ecological Services LLC, agreed to do the work pro-bono. What Perry didn’t anticipate was that I, even unbeknownst to me at the time, would soon be asking him if he’d have faith in the process that Dr. Rybczyk’s students would do the laborious fieldwork and that they would deliver solid data to work with.
Recreation Northwest was able to engage professor Dr. John Rybczyk–a local Western Washington University professor—and his fall quarter Wetlands Ecology class to perform the data collection for Year Three. The students are part of the Environmental Science program.
Dr. Rybczyk led twelve undergraduate and two graduate students through the process of performing plant surveys and reporting. The entire class participated in the field survey over the course of three weeks during fall quarter.
As Dr. John reports, the upper-level environmental science course description gives you a sense of what “kids are learning in school these days”: ESCI 440. Wetlands Ecology. An ecosystem approach to investigating the hydrologic, chemical and biological interactions that are unique to wetland systems. Students will take several field trips to bogs, swamps, marshes and estuaries in the area to become familiar with diverse wetland habitats and to illustrate the principles covered in class. ESCI 440.
Little did the students know after reading the course descriptions that they’d get this real-life opportunity “ It was certainly a baptism by fire because it was the very first thing we did in the class!” Dr. John Rybczyk reflects. “They first did the initial counts, organized the data, and then revisited the site to identify issues and to re-check our counts or species identifications. Two graduate students summarized all the data in the data tables”
The students’ reports address our conformance to performance standards with a narrative of the project, tables, photo points, and ten separate Wetland Delineation Data Forms that correspond photo plots. The forms require the listing of the vegetation in each of the plots. Using the scientific names of the plants, students catalogued the percentage of cover in three stratum in the forest, from the canopy overhead down to the ground, the stratum are tree; sapling/shrub; and herb.
The student’s reports show that our mitigation planting sites are in good shape. “In general, all of the sites and plots are doing very well and you appear to be easily in compliance. Several of the plantings have really taken off, either by sprout or seed or volunteer. In particular, the Sword Fern, Indian Plum and Salmonberry have become so numerous in some sites, they were difficult to count! There was no issue with invasive at this time either,” Dr. Rybczyk reported on behalf of his class.
In closing, we thank both Perry Welch, Dr. John Rybczyk and the Western Wetland Ecology Students for coming together to close out the year with some positive information to share and new collaborations in place with the university. Our board and staff thank you as well as the community that utilizes our trails and wetland boardwalk to access the trails in the forest and beyond.
If you’d like more perspective on the reporting, check out the 2018 Mitigation Report Write Up on our blog, The Confluence. If you want to see last year’s report: 2019 COB Fairhaven Trails Phase II Mitigation Year 2 (PDF) to see what we’re on the hook for until 2027, when our reporting is completed.
*Funny note: This collaboration project with Western was initiated by a conversation between John and myself about how to dehydrate figs. That was the result of a Facebook post by John that caught Todd’s attention. Todd called John for the “recipe” and the conversation led to this project. They were friends on Facebook due to a shared interest in paddling events and John’s on the water in a rescue support boat as part of our Traverse CREW back in the day!
While we’re at it- Perry and I are also old friends and have enjoyed working on this project together and coaching and watching our daughters play lacrosse. His professional direction and support over the years has led to our project’s success.
As Executive Director of Recreation Northwest, Todd Elsworth promotes outdoor recreation and brings community together to enjoy, preserve and improve the places where we play. His decades of extensive event production, marketing and writing experience propel this passion. You might bump into him and his daughter Violet while they’re biking, hiking, paddling or skiing in the beautiful Pacific Northwest.