By Olivia Palmer
On a busy weekday, West Marginal Way is a concrete canyon.
Shipping containers and industrial buildings line the causeway. The trucks go by. Traffic roars. Venture a few hundred yards from the main road, however, and a different world appears.
Just beyond the cacophony of traffic and industry is The Heron’s Nest outdoor education center, a quiet 3.5-acre plot of land along the West Duwamish Greenbelt.
“It seems a little unreal,” said Andrew Grueter, ecotourist guide at Duwamish Tribal Services. “You start driving on West Marginal Way, you turn, you drive for about 30 seconds and you feel like you’re out of town. “
The Heron’s Nest is a project founded by the Shared Spaces Foundation, a non-profit organization focused on outdoor education, stewardship and land repatriation. Amanda Lee, Volunteer Field Director for the project and a member of the Shared Spaces Board of Directors, said the idea for the Heron’s Nest began in the spring of 2020 when they first saw the property and logged in. with the owner, Cardiff Investments LLC.
“The plot had been pretty much vacant and dilapidated for about six years, and was completely overgrown. I kind of helped keep an eye on the place, ”Lee said.
Lee said the property was riddled with problems, including criminal activity, stolen and robbed cars, trash and hazardous materials.
“The more I learned about the plot itself, the more I became personally involved in the management of the land,” said Lee. “I just asked the owner if I could start cleaning up the area and removing some of the garbage and debris because it’s such a beautiful area.”
In June 2020, Lee began his vision of the land by clearing it. After an initial conversation with Duwamish Tribal Services, they began working with volunteers on various projects, including removing invasive plants, restoring and adding a 65 foot greenhouse on the property, and putting in place of hand washing stations, outhouses and a classroom.
While the cleanup and construction of the project’s non-permanent structures is still underway, Heron’s Nest has been able to host a handful of community events, including outdoor movie nights, volunteer stewardship days. Saturday and Monday and workshops on self-reliance and economic empowerment skills such as carpentry, mechanics and urban agriculture.
Lee said that one of the main goals of the project is to keep the green space and preserve it from development. Shared Spaces is currently leasing the land and hopes to purchase it by the end of the year. Otherwise, it will be sold to a private developer to build townhouses there, Lee said.
Along with the desire to save the land is the intention to return it to the Duwamish tribe, whose longhouse is just south of the property. While the Heron’s Nest is open to the community, Lee said they intend to create a relationship with the tribe and make the land accessible for the use of the tribe specific to their needs.
“The Duwamish are still here,” Lee said. “It’s not just about ‘stopping the development and saving the green space project’, but also repatriating land to the Duwamish people who lived and used this land here hundreds of years ago. “
Grueter said the tribe had worked with Heron’s Nest on an initial deal, which they planned to formally enter into if the land was purchased.
“The tribe already had restoration programs, water quality monitoring, pollution mitigation and things in and around the green belt very close to Heron’s Nest. So that fits very well with a number of different projects that the tribe wants to do, ”said Grueter. “There are all kinds of different projects that the two groups really care about and intersect with. “
Lee said Heron’s Nest helped establish a trail from the plot to the longhouse, and planned to grow fruits and vegetables and build an outdoor kitchen in support of tribal events such as barbecues and parties. parking product stands. The tribe also considered using the land for emergency housing.
Grueter said the Duwamish Tribe’s stewardship of land, including their efforts in partnering with Heron’s Nest, could help their cause for federal recognition, which they currently do not have. The partnership also adds to the land ownership of the tribe.
The history of the tribe is closely linked to a history of industrialization, which has had lasting impacts on the land.
“Historically there were several different Duwamish villages a few miles on this side of the river when the city of Seattle began to develop industry originally, such as logging and shipping, fishing and mills. “said Grueter. “These industries, along with the white settlements, were the first things to displace the Duwamish from their villages here.”
Grueter said that after these villages were moved from Duwamish, the neighborhood of Youngstown emerged. This area too, however, was mined by industry, eventually demolished and replaced by a port.
“So the industry has more than strongly shaped the surrounding region,” said Grueter. “It actually completely wiped out the Duwamish villages first and then the neighborhood that replaced them.”
Today, the legacy of the region’s industrial past lives on.
Grueter said toxic byproducts of cement production were dumped near the plot in the 1960s; even now, Heron’s Nest has to grow all of its edible plants in raised beds due to the effects of these hazardous materials on the soil.
While the plot’s location in an industrial environment presents challenges, Grueter said it also provides community members with an opportunity to set a good precedent by cleaning up pollution, especially when the city has not. always the means or the capacity to do so.
“The goal is basically to find the cheapest, most efficient and repeatable solutions to clean something like this, so that we can run public workshops on it and show that this is a usable model. so people don’t have to depend on industries and governments. to one day solve the problem, ”said Grueter. “People can take it in hand. ”
Looking to the future, Lee hopes to continue cleaning up the space, completing construction, and potentially even starting a recycling system. The most pressing goal, however, is to find the funds to buy the property.
Lee said Heron’s Nest only had until December to offer a down payment of at least $ 200,000. So far, he has only raised about $ 10,000. If the project fails to raise the remaining funds, the property will be sold and turned into townhouses.
“We definitely need all the support we can get to make it happen,” said Lee. “We are definitely open and would like to have more volunteers, as well as the necessary financial support to carry out the project. “
Lee said that as Heron’s Nest focuses on short-term fundraising and awareness, they are keen to see more people visit the property. At this point, they are open to ideas for events from community members and their main focus is on making the space as accessible as possible.
“It’s a safe and accessible space for all members of the community around Seattle and the wider area,” said Lee, adding that they specifically hope to provide a safe space for members of the Duwamish Valley, BIPOC and LGBTQ communities.
Those involved in the project share a similar hope.
Audrey Liu-Sheirbon, who volunteered for the project for a few weeks, said she sees the Heron’s Nest as a space with the potential to diversify the outdoors.
“I think its proximity to the city is what makes it so special,” Liu-Sheirbon said. “I hope it will provide a safe space for those who do not necessarily have access to outdoor educational resources. “
As a young high school graduate, Liu-Sheirbon said the project was important to her as a youngster as well. She said she thinks it offers the opportunity to explore a type of learning that is not always accessible or traditionally offered.
“As a youngster, I’m just starting to learn all of these new outdoor skills,” Liu-Sheirbon said. “I don’t necessarily know how to cook outside, nor how to garden. I guess I never really learned that in school.
Andrew Pierce has volunteered with Heron’s Nest almost since its inception. Looking back on the work he and others have put into the project, he said he hopes to see it continue to grow and prosper in the years to come.
“It’s just starting to show, I think, the potential he could have,” Pierce said. “If we were to keep doing different projects and planting projects over the next 10 years, it could be really, really beautiful. “
Use and visits to Heron’s Nest are currently by reservation only. Those interested in learning more about donations, events and volunteer opportunities with Heron’s Nest can visit the project website, Facebook (@TheHeronsNestCamp) or Instagram (@heronsnestoutdoor), or email [email protected] .