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Nov 2013 Spotlight – Whidbey Watershed Stewards

Whidbey Watershed Stewards Outdoor Classroom

Whidbey Watershed Stewards Outdoor Classroom

Whidbey Watershed Stewards works to promote the health of our environment and the people that live here. We restore degraded lands, involve citizens in science projects and provide watershed education to people of all ages. You probably know us best from a visit to our Outdoor Classroom in Maxwelton, if you haven’t visited – you’re invited!

Planting in fall and winter is best for successful growth

Planting in fall and winter is best for successful growth

As November ushers in the dark and colder months, we are busy getting ready for planting – we hope you are too! The cool winter months are the best time to plant native ornamental plants whether on your property or in a restoration project. We work with local landowners to enhance their habitats, and this is just one way you can participate in our theme this year of  “Whidbey’s Waters are in our hands”. 

Project Highlight

In September we completed the construction phase of a wetland restoration project on Cultus Bay Rd, at the headwaters of Glendale Creek. Over the next few months we will hold work parties  to help us plant native trees and shrubs to complete the restoration.

The knoll at "the old Jackson place"

The knoll at “the old Jackson place”

 Around the turn of the last century, a wagon road lead to a brushy wetland at the head of the Glendale Watershed. Real estate advertising at the time highlighted how productive this area could be for farm and orchard production, with rick black soils, plentiful water, and the added benefit that the wetland didn’t have the large stumps that were so difficult to remove.  Roads were improved, ditches dug and parcels divided, and by early in the century the Jackson family had built a small house. Consuela Jackson is fondly remembered for selling milk and eggs from her homestead into the 90’s.  With the clearing and installation of drainage tile, underground pipes to isolate ground water, early farms had quickly became productive, but over the years, these farm soils subsided and drainage became difficult to maintain, making it too wet for farming.

Excavating drainage tile

Excavating drainage tile

When Suzannah Dalzell purchased the land, it was with an eye toward re-creating the productive wildlands that once were found at the head of the watershed. The wetland soils on the property help keep stream flows constant by acting as a sponge and slowly releasing water during dry times. Along with water and cover, wetlands provide critical habitat for much of our island wildlife.

Ceramic drain tiles in semiamoo muck soils

Ceramic drain tiles in semiahmoo muck soil

To being to restore this property, and the ecological functions that it had provided, the wetland hydrology had to be re-established. By filling ditches, and removing underground drain tiles, the water now moves through the site much as it originally did.

Moving habitat logs into place

Moving habitat logs into place

Habitat piles in the wetland

Habitat piles in the wetland

 Since there has not been trees and other woody plants on the property for over a century, we brought in logs to create habitat piles for amphibians and birds.

The addition of this wood will serve the functions of fallen logs until the site begins to produce it’s own structure as trees grow. 

A perch pole near sitting above the wetland

A perch pole near sitting above the wetland

We also installed perch poles to attract raptors and recreate standing structure on the property that would mimic dead snags that would have been present. Aday after the perch poles were installed, raptors began hunting and resting on the poles!

The project is on a conservation easement held by the Whidbey Camano Land Trust, and is supported by the Natural Resources Conservation Service, part of the US Department of Agriculture. Partnerships with landowners, schools and agencies are important elements of bringing communities together to invest in the future health of our island. You can support these efforts by volunteering, supporting local funding sources such as the Conservation Futures Fund, and other policies that support habitat protection and restoration.

Fall 2013 – Kids and Streams and Beaches

2013-broadview-learning-logIn September 2013, 250 third to fifth grade students (from Broadview Elementary in Oak Harbor) came south to the Maxwelton Valley –  to explore and learn about stream ecology at the  Outdoor Classroom, and to do the same for the intertidal zone on nearby Maxwelton Beach.

Many of the students had never been to a  beach before. We asked them – what do you see, hear, smell, or feel that lets you know this is a beach? Some found it beautiful but stinky, others relished all aspects, all were eager to explore.

At the Beach, the students did two experiments, weaving the scientific method into their explorations. In the first they measured tidal movement during their visit. In the second, they compared how things float in  fresh versus salt water. 2013-broadview-microscopes(They floated a clamshell in fresh water, and another in salt water – then added pennies to each, one at a time – which clamshell do you think floated longer before sinking?) They also learned about plastic litter and its long-lived damage to the beach environment.

Students were introduced to marine plankton (in discussion and through a plankton song) and viewed living samples through microscopes. Of course, they also had some time to run around on the beach and just explore it.


This is not the first trip south for Broadview Elementary. For many years, the principal, Joyce Swanson, has been bringing students on a fall excursion to the Maxwelton Outdoor Classroom. Last year, a side-trip to the South Whidbey Bayview Transfer Station was added. As one student said: “Who would have thought trash could be so cool?” This year, the beach component was added – another student quote – “You really believe it when you can pick up the seaweed and turn over the rocks yourself.”


It takes -lots- of work behind the scenes to enable these valuable educational opportunities.  Active EcoNet Partners on this project:

  • Service, Education & Adventure (SEA) – beach instruction
  • Whidbey Watershed Stewards – Outdoor Classroom, stream instruction
  • WSU Extension Beach Watchers – intertidal expertise, beach instruction
  • WSU Extension Waste Wise – ‘Reduce, Reuse, Recycle’ expertise and instruction

Some takeaway comments:

Joyce Swanson, Broadview Elementary Principal, Oak Harbor

  • At Broad View, we value hands-on science activities in the field for our students so they can experience the environment as they learn. Students tell me that having a personal experience while learning makes it real. “You really believe it when you can pick up the seaweed and turn over the rocks yourself.” Many of our elementary students have limited opportunities to spend time in the outdoors at our parks and beaches, so as a school, we look for ways to get them out there to learn real science and see how it applies to their lives. The activities provided by the Beach Watchers, Service, Education & Adventure (SEA) and Whidbey Watershed Stewards were engaging for our students and helped them learn more about the Salish Sea, which is so important to us as Whidbey Islanders.

Susie Richards, ECONet Coordinator and SEA Co-Director

  • This pilot has provided EcoNet partners an opportunity to truly model the key elements of the ECO Net mission education, collaboration and outreach. We look forward to expanding these collaborative efforts as we implement our theme this year of Whidbey Waters are in Our Hands.