Mapping for the Puget Sound Nearshore project has begun. Click here to go to the Campaign. For the first leg of the journey we are mapping from West Point at the Discovery Park Lighthouse to Admiral Point in West Seattle. This is about a 10 mile stretch and encompasses a stretch of undeveloped shoreline at Discovery Park to the highly developed areas of the Seattle Waterfront and Port of Seattle.
Why Start at West Point?
West point marks the northern extent of Elliott Bay, the bay adjacent to downtown Seattle. This area is also historically significant. West Point Lighthouse is an active aid to navigation to this day after being constructed in 1881. Fifteen years later what is now Discovery Park which includes the shoreline to the north and south of the lighthouse became Fort Lawton.
As we make our way along the Nearshore of Puget Sound also known as the Salish Sea we must remain aware that we are visitors to this place that has been home to the Salish Tribes of this region since the last ice age. For example, West Point has not always been called “West Point” – this is a name that has only been used for the past ~175 years. The original name for this place is PKa’dz Eltue (phonically: pa-uq-dz-al-tsu) meaning “thrust far out.” For thousands of years prior the Duwamish, Suquamish, Tulalip and Muckleshoot nations were active in this place; meeting, trading, sharing stories, gathering and preparing food (City ofSeattle).
The Developed Landscape
Since colonization the landscape of the Puget Sound Nearshore has changed dramatically and there is no better example of the extremity of these changes then the Seattle shoreline. As I paddle along the shore south of Discovery Park and into Elliott Bay Marina I encounter many harbor seals feeding. These marinas can become choke points for juvenile fish and salmon rearing along the nearshore. Because of the way some marinas are designed they can trap food sources for small fish, which in turn attracts bigger fish which brings in the harbor seals. It becomes its own little ecosystem, however this type of confinement is not part of a properly functioning Nearshore.
Perhaps no City in the United States underwent more landscape modifications during its development than the City of Seattle and those modifications are ever present in the Seattle Shorescape. When the City was being planned the shoreline area was a giant bluff, much like the bluffs of Discovery Park. In order to create a space for building a city center as well as a place for trading ships to dock these bluffs were graded. Known as the Denny Regrade this grading and leveling project removed millions of tons of soil which were then distributed throughout the nearshore area of Seattle. What is now the Seattle waterfront, the Stadium District south of downtown as well as Harbor Island which separates the Port of Seattle and Duwamish East and West Channels was all created by fill dirt from the re-grade. The area that was filled in was a giant estuary formed by the Green/Duwamish river. This estuary is now a tiny fraction of its original size and function.
As I make my way along the Seattle Waterfront I observe the new Sea Wall that has been constructed with textured sections and concrete obtrusions meant to provide habitat for juvenile salmon. I wonder how effective they are. The wind picked up fiercely in the afternoon blowing me up the Ports East channel and putting an end to my first day of mapping. But what an adventure it was and how incredible it is to still see Harbor Seals and Great Blue Herons feeding among this industrial landscape. It gives me hope that there are solutions to recovering and conserving the Puget Sound.