With the World Cup coming up in June, it might not be the best time for me to tell Tukwila’s aspiring Mo Salahs, Kevin De Bruynes and Neymars this:
I want to rip out your four soccer fields and put in a big huge giant side channel for imperiled salmon and steelhead instead.
Look, kids, I love the beautiful game — what an MLS debut for Ibra! — and really do want you to be on our 2022 team.
USA! USA! USA!
But those 6, 7, 8, 9 acres right alongside the lower Green have a higher and better purpose than close-cropped grass, limed lines and practicing Olivier Giroud-style scorpion goals.
(OK, the third is negotiable.)
They could instead be a network of thickly wooded, winding, tidally influenced habitat for Endangered Species Act-listed Chinook and winter- and summer-run steelhead, as well as coho, to rear in, boosting fish capacity in the highly developed King County river system.
Similar projects have gone in downstream at Codiga Park, Cecil Moses Memorial Park, the Turning Basin, Highway 509 Wetlands and Kellogg Island, and well as upstream.
One, a 700-foot-long constructed reach known as Riverview between Kent and Auburn, held way more young kings and across all stream flows than four other surveyed stretches.
So why not return a portion of the city’s (and formerly the county’s) Fort Dent Park to its original purpose lo these many decades ago?
“The area historically had a bunch of side channel habitats and wetland slough-type areas that were great for rearing, but most of that habitat has been filled in and developed and the river has largely been diked throughout that area,” notes one fisheries biologist.
While the region’s Powers That Be continue with their offsides thinking that they can somehow recover ESA stocks by restricting our fisheries into oblivion, we can raise all the yellow and red cards we want on gillnetting and pinnipeds — along with stormwater runoff and pollution — because they do have an verifiable impacts.
But honestly, the best way to help our favorite fish out is to increase the amount of habitat available to them.
That was the point of a recent stellar educational simulation posted on Tidal Exchange, and it’s what I hear over and over and over from biologists: Quit festering so much about fishery impacts on adult fish and focus instead on adding rearing space for the young’ns.
So, with that idea in mind early one afternoon last week, I made the rounds of the fußball fields next to the Seattle Sounders practice facilities.
Walking along the paved Green River Trail as warm sunlight poured over me, I imagined an army’s worth of dump trucks hauling off millions of cubic feet of topsoil (with a load or two of the rich fill headed for my yard).
Pausing next to a bench, I saw earthmovers sculpting subtidal flats and fingered drainages, as well as berms and islands down where a couple dogs played fetch with their owners, and moving the dike from next to the river to over where cars parked.
From the Starfire Way bridge, I mulled where I’d put in a diversion from the river to flood the former fields and later, standing down by the Fort Dent landing monument, I considered where I’d put an outlet.
With the scent of cottonwood sap in my nostrils, I envisioned fishermen joining soccer squads and other volunteers to participate in annual mass plantings of native plants, shrubs and trees.
I saw a forest growing up and shading the channels, providing perches for kingfishers, and boardwalk pathways and informational displays on how the project was helping young kings, silvers and chromers.
And then I really actually did see Clint Dempsey in the Starfire parking lot and I was like OMG, it’s Deuce, right there! OK, just be cool, Walgamott, don’t run over for a selfie and to hassle him with your hairbrained idea, breathe through your nose, man.
Ahem, I will admit that this project would face some challenges.
It pits little kickers against little finners, and sadly, I don’t know that Pugetropolites really have the stomach for helping the latter group out like they should.
There’s convincing the Tukwila Parks & Rec Department to get on board and mitigating the four lost playfields (those nice, level though rather noisy grassy strips just over the hill in SeaTac are right out).
The required permitting and buy-in from the city, county, flood control district, state and Army Corps of Engineers and other federal agencies.
And the price tag. The morning of my walk I’d picked up a MegaMillions ticket for Friday’s half-billion-dollar drawing, but I only got one number, so NMFS Section 6 and Washington Salmon Recovery Funding Board grants will be key and the project would have to compete well with others to score money from either of those two heavy-lift sources.
So, yeah, my project is probably a long shot for salmon and steelhead, but sometimes you gotta think big — kinda like Wayne Rooney did from his own half last November.