Submitted by Gregory Alderete.
Meet Nathan May. A bright, curious, soon-to-be freshman Sentinel at Steilacoom High School. He loves gardening, the outdoors, science, and mostly learning.
I received a phone call from Nate after he read the Tacoma News Tribune’s feature documenting the trapping of beaver in the Puget Sound’s Farrell’s Marsh Wildlife Preserve. He had never been to the marsh and wanted to know how to get to it. I responded, better yet, how would you like me to take you there and we’ll kayak around the wetland. He jumped on it. While en route he asked me, “if the Marsh was a Wildlife Preserve then why is the town killing the beaver?” Great question. I said rather than me give you an answer why don’t you ask me after we kayak the marsh and visit the beaver dam. He agreed.
As we pushed off from the thickly vegetated shoreline two pair of nesting mallards launched from a cluster of dried cattails. The redwing blackbird was singing to a mate. The marsh was alive, as the ever vigil Blue Heron made a sweeping pass to a perch to watch us glide effortlessly on the glass-like aquatic paradise. Several first-time visitors from Graham had read about the marsh and came to see the beaver. We pointed them in the direction of the dam but informed them that they are rarely seen before dusk. Within moments a woman running by us with her two dogs piously proclaimed that beaver don’t belong in the marsh. Nate looked stunned, I told him rarely will he change the mind of those comfortable in ignorance. Then redemptively, two women appeared near the footbridge. Are you the ones trying to save the beaver? Yes, we said, and they began applauding, thank you, thank you, thank you, they chanted. It took us about 90 minutes to tour the wetlands’ shallow mysterious dark waters. Most areas were 3 feet deep and near the dam 5 feet.
Sadly, Washington state has lost 31 percent of its wetlands. As Nate studied an amphibian egg mass below the chilled brown water, I asked him how can we save this wetland? Here’s what he said. We have an amazing wildlife habitat right in our back yard and most people don’t know it. We need to get my generation excited about restoring and preserving our wetlands so they can be enjoyed for years by us and those who will follow us. The Farrell’s Marsh should be adopted by the science teachers in the Steilacoom school district as a living breathing laboratory. Rather than read about our wetlands students can walk to one of the most beautiful wildlife preserves in the State. His idea is to have the students of Steilacoom adopt the marsh and commit to its preservation. Student volunteers will be given a certificate of commitment and their names will be submitted to the Steilacoom Historical Museum Society for the historical record. He even suggested the Farrell’s Marsh College Scholarship, believing competition leads to success. He believes every local student should be required to examine one aspect of the marsh (a season, water, plants, animals, etc.) as a science project that will be presented to a panel of students, city council members, and science teachers. WOW, I said this is really a great idea, but then what happens when everyone goes home? We take our lessons learned and begin preparing for the next year’s Farrell Marsh Science Competition. He said I bet other wetlands are endangered so maybe the idea and challenge to other kids will spread through the State, the US….and the world. I said Nate, you have set the preconditions for success.
As we loaded the kayaks back into my truck, I asked him if he had time to think about his first question. He paused and looked back at the marsh. His response stunned me, “It is a question no one should have to ask.”
The views expressed in this article are the writer’s own.