Local WSU shore stewards walk the walk

Published on Wed, Jun 17, 2009 by By Cheryl Lovato Niles WSU Whatcom County Beach Watchers

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 Joan and Darrel Clark are residents of Blaine who have always been committed to stewardship of their land and their community.  When they built their new home with a view of Drayton Harbor the Clarks knew they wanted to do all that they could to preserve our fish, shellfish, and wildlife for the next generation. 

So they became Shore Stewards and joined the growing number of shoreline residents committed to protecting the health and beauty of the inland sea that stretches from Olympia to Blaine, commonly called Puget Sound.

There are more than 1,200 WSU Shore Stewards around Puget Sound, over 200 of them in Whatcom County alone. Shore Stewards are people who want to know what keeps Puget Sound healthy and how they can help. To help them accomplish their goals, the Shore Stewards program provides a free Guide to Shoreline Living, DVDs, newsletters, and occasional workshops.  I visited the Clarks in June to find out how they put their Shore Stewards ethics into action.

The Clark’s home feels like a seaside cottage, the gardens are lush and full of life, and both were designed with the environment in mind. 

The steps they’ve taken to protect Drayton Harbor are evident everywhere beginning with the size of their home. When their kids were grown and gone they decided to radically downsize to a much smaller home. Now, comfortably tucked in to 1,200 square feet, the high ceilings and the view of the gardens and Drayton Harbor beyond give the house an expansive quality which is even more amazing when you consider they share the space with their two enormous Great Danes – Billy and Bob.

Their home's small footprint creates less stormwater runoff - the rain water that runs off our homes, driveways, and streets, and picks up pollution as it flows to our streams and bays. Stormwater is one of the top threats to clean and healthy waterways in Washington state and, as we tour the property, Joan points out their gravel driveway and the patio pavers set with gaps between – both examples of pervious surfaces that help rain water slow down, spread out, and soak into the land.

When the number of their immediate neighbors grew from two to 10, the winter rains suddenly led to backyard floods. To cope with the increased runoff from the newly improved road they created a pond which is now a focal point for the backyard and was home to a family of ducks last winter. This way-station for water is another way of allowing it time to soak in to the land while keeping their backyard liveable year round.

They help to keep the water clean by washing their car in a commercial car wash where the greasy, dirty, soapy water is either filtered on site or sent to the wastewater treatment plant. And they are very careful about what they put on their land. The gardens are overflowing with enthusiastic plant growth even though Darrel never applies a traditional fertilizer.  Instead he uses composted dairy manure which slowly releases nitrogen to the soil. 

Excess nitrogen is a leading cause of marine algal blooms, which can lead to low oxygen conditions and even dead zones in our marine waters.  Darrel explains that careful application of a slow-release product like compost delivers nitrogen to the plants and keeps it out of the water. He wishes Blaine had a shoreline fertilizer formula with slow release nitrogen so that residents who prefer fertilizer can also keep the water clean. He also wishes more people knew that grass clippings and garden waste can also pack a lot of nitrogen and should never be dumped on the beaches.   

Joan almost never uses any form of pesticide and the payoff is a garden that is teaming with life.  In addition to the vigorous plant growth all around, butterflies and hundreds of birds call their backyard home.  With bird feeders, and native and non-native plant choices, the Clarks have put out a buffet for the birds. Frequent visitors include goldfinches, orioles, and doves. As I visited with them we heard eagles nearby and saw a heron flying overhead. The eagles favor the tree down the alley. A nesting box on a tall pole in the front of the house leans at a Doctor Seussish angle. Darrel explains that he was planning to straighten the post out, but before he got a chance, some swallows took up residence and built a nest.  That project will just have to wait until their young are fledged. 

From their back deck the Clarks look out at the floating oyster processing rig nicknamed “The Beauty” and they are concerned about the challenges faced by the Drayton Harbor Community Oyster Farm over the years.  Namely, too much pollution from animal and human waste flowing into the bay means the oyster harvest must be shut down for several days after any significant rain. 

Recent studies have shown significant pollution from both human and ruminant sources (such as cows, deer, goats, and sheep) coming into the bay from California Creek and its tributaries. Darrel does his part to prevent additional fecal coliform pollution by picking up after Billy and Bob everyday – rain or shine, at the dog park or at home, and throwing the waste into the garbage.

To become a Shore Steward and learn more about how you can protect your piece of Puget Sound point your browser to www.shorestewards.wsu.edu or call WSU Extension at 676-6736 and ask for Cheryl Lovato Niles.