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Salmon Bay Natural Area

After six years of community effort, the Salmon Bay Natural Area was preserved through a phased purchase. Groundswell NW led the effort to preserve this last remaining undeveloped, wooded bank along the Salmon Bay waterway. The shoreline property flanks both sides of the 34th Ave. NW street end, between The Canal and the railroad bridge. Together with the street-end and adjacent publicly owned land, the Salmon Bay Natural Area protects over 680 linear feet of largely undeveloped estuarine shoreline.

The property went on the market in the summer of 2000. In the year following, Groundswell NW worked to craft a purchase strategy, using a variety of resources, from city, county, state, and federal salmon recovery funds to Neighborhood Matching Funds. Over $65,000 was contributed from private sources, including $10,000 from Consolidated Restaurants, owners of the former Hiram's Restaurant. The project received a major boost from City Council member Richard Conlin, who sponsored a $335,000 allocation from the Seattle Public Utilities budget. Groundswell NW received Neighborhood Matching Fund awards to develop conceptual plans for the site and $150,000 for acquisition. A $160,000 grant from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation and a $50,000 King Conservation District grant put the total at over $750,000 to date.

The first phase purchase included the parcel just east of the 34th Ave. NW shoreline street end and three parcels just east of the railroad bridge containing a small house and boatshed. The sale agreement, negotiated by Cascade Land Conservancy, included a contract to purchase the last parcel, just west of the street end, over the next 18 months. A number of private and public funding sources were pursued, which allowed the complete acquisition.

The property was first identified as a top priority acquisition opportunity in the 1996 Ballard/Crown Hill Open Space Inventory. In 1997 developers proposed to build five homes west of the street-end and a three-story commercial building to the east, essentially between Hiram's deck and the water. The exception in Seattle Shoreline Code that allowed single-family development over water in this area was rescinded by the City Council, following the listing of Puget Sound salmon as an endangered species. This precluded the over-water portion of the development proposal, while leaving open the possibility of water-dependent commercial development.

The Salmon Bay Natural Area offers a rare opportunity to enhance the degraded estuary of the greater Lake Washington watershed, a critical environment in the life cycle of threatened Puget Sound salmon. As the smolts make their way through the Locks, battered and disoriented by the abrupt transition to salt water and vulnerable to predators, an area for refuge and adjustment to the new environment is essential for their survival. Restoration of this property will enhance this refuge, giving the smolts a better chance of gaining the body weight they need to thrive in the open ocean. The property will also offer a public overlook and resting spot adjacent to the Burke Gilman Trail completion, and an educational site where people can learn more about the importance of Ballard's shoreline to the salmon recovery picture.

Using a matching fund grant to develop conceptual plans for the site, Groundswell NW hired J.A. Brennan Associates Landscape Architects. Jim Brennan, who led the design of Webster Playground, helped conduct a Design Workshop in October 2001. Ideas discussed include enhancing urban estuarine habitat, educating the public on its importance in the life cycle of salmon and other wildlife, a viewpoint providing great views of the Salmon Bay Waterway, and interpretive signage describing the key role of this estuary and efforts to restore it. Groundswell NW and the City of Seattle continue to make progress on these objectives. In addition work parties are held regularly to clean up the site and surrounding areas; remove blackberries, ivy, and other invasive species; and plant new species to restore the habitat quality of the site.