Volunteerism runs deep at Cowling Creek project

MILLER BAY — To the Friends of Miller Bay, $5,000 and a lot of weed-pulling is worth helping the local salmon streams.

And that’s just what the group and some 80 volunteers did last year to support the Friends’ mission to keep the Miller Bay watershed as healthy as possible.

Friends of Miller Bay members recently finished habitat restoration work on one of the area’s more active creeks, Cowling Creek, just as their $5,000 Community Salmon Fund grant ran out in December 2004.

More than 200 hours of labor were donated by volunteers to remove invasive vegetation, plant native species, participate in beach seining in Miller Bay and help map South Cowling Creek. During one of the work parties, a 300-400-year-old cedar tree that measured about 18’7” in circumference and about 110’ tall was discovered as well.

Between April and December 2004, 20 work parties took place, involving approximately 80 volunteers, both young and old, on the 18-acre property that the FOMB is trying to purchase and protect from development.

While crews pulled holly, ivy, Himalayan blackberry and laurel, there is still much work to be done, said Friends of Miller Bay member and grant project coordinator Niki Quester.

“There were a lot of volunteer efforts and a lot of ivy and holly and blackberry that bit the dust,” she said.

While the physical work was important, it’s the lessons volunteers walked away with that Quester hopes will have a bigger impact — how to take care of the watershed so there is a healthy habitat and clean water for everyone, salmon included.

“If we don’t have those areas (cleaned), we don’t get to turn on the faucet,” Quester said. “A lot of the important work was the individuals learning about their watershed.”

Indianola resident Jim Salter volunteered about 20 hours of his time, primarily pulling blackberries.

“My main focus was teaching people how to pull blackberries without using chemicals,” he said, noting it can be done with proper tools and removing as much of the bush’s root as possible.

As someone who grew up in the area, Salter said he has seen the declining health of local streams and believes it’s important to do something about it.

“We’re all really responsible at some or point or another for the degradation of the environment and any time we can help mitigate that is a good thing to do,” he said.

Another project that involved grant money was educating residents about the importance of maintaining their septic systems. A workshop hosted by the Kitsap County Public Health District explained how failing septic systems can negatively impact local waterways. This topic had special importance in Indianola, an area that has experienced increasing levels of fecal coliform and resulting problems during the past few years. It seems to have gotten worse within the last year, Quester said.

“It was problem area before the grant and it’s a worse problem now,” Quester said, noting that the county health district has cited failing septic systems within the Miller Bay watershed as the primary reason.

Quester has lived in the area for 30 years and remembered when “Clam Island” in Miller Bay was the hot spot for shellfishing. Harvesting there is prohibited because of toxic water warnings.

“It means something in my life on my watch was made worse,” she said on why she’s taken on the challenge to do this. “I personally feel impacted.”

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