Save Fish Help Birds

Judy Pickens, Phil Sweetland and the rejuvenated Fauntleroy Creek.

Last year Friends of Fauntleroy Creek published a list of 68 bird species that frequent the shady ravine and travel up and down the stream. And volunteer salmon watchers counted 167 coho in the quarter-mile spawning channel.

They were trying for salmon. The birds were a wonderful surprise.

Judy Pickens and her husband, Phil Sweetland, began a campaign in 1969 to restore Fauntleroy Creek, a neglected little stream in West Seattle that was once bank-to-bank trout and salmon.

The salmon quit coming upstream about 1910. By 1969, blackberry briars covered a sluggish creek disgraced with bottles, cans and other human debris. About all Fauntleroy Creek had going for it was a large number of fine old trees and a handful of families who cared about what became of it. Its rebirth has become a symbol of what can happen when organized citizens and government agencies manage to get on the same page.

Pickens, Sweetland and the Friends of Fauntleroy Creek enlisted Youth Conservation Corps members to help clean the trash from the stream, yank out briers and plant native shrubs. Children from nearby elementary schools planted coho salmon, starting in 1990. When two of the fish (the neighbors named them Terry and Louise) tried to come home in 1994 and couldn't make it through a failing, 83-year-old culvert, Seattle Public Utilities (overseer of the City's water and surface drainage services) installed a new culvert, then agreed to engineer and build a state-of-the-art fish ladder.

Two weeks after the fish ladder was opened, big salmon were thrashing their way through the weirs.

As though scoring a bonus for their hard work, Pickens and Sweetland found that the winding creek's restoration made their backyard a prime birding area. Birds now flock into the shady canyon to feed on the fruits and seeds of red osier dogwood, red-flowering currant, Oregon grape, and dozens of other natives now growing tall and thick along the stream.

"We chose native plants as best we could for renovating the creek," Judy Pickens recalls. "We were thinking about the insects, attracting insects to the water as fish food. It wasn't more than two years later that we began seeing birds we hadn't seen before, and lots more of what we had seen."

Children from Seattle schools come by the busload to watch the fish, count birds, measure waterborne insect life, and learn the mysterious ways the plants, insects, birds and fish interconnect.

Above the creek, on a public hiking bridge, Olympic Peninsula artist Tom Jay has created "echoes" of the creek in concrete, stone and bronze. Here, surrounded by birdsong and the music of a healthy stream, you can trace the recurring miracles of small salmon headed for the ocean, and of great salmon struggling eternally homeward to create new beginnings.

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