By Chris Winters, The Herald
MARYSVILLE — The levee at the Qwuloolt Estuary has been breached for nearly a month and the ecosystem is slowly transforming from a weed-covered lowland into a salt marsh.
With the Tulalip Tribes doing the last bits of finishing work, the city of Marysville is now looking at its next big project: building 1.8 miles of new trail around the new estuary.
The city is planning a 12-foot wide paved trail that would lead from Ebey Waterfront Park down to the estuary. Another segment will run on the east side of the breached levee up to Harborview Park in the Sunnyside neighborhood.
If all goes according to plan, the two segments of trail would be complete by the end of 2016.
It’s a big deal for the city, which has relatively little in the way of publicly available waterfront.
“We’ve only had about 900 feet of access to our shoreline and this will change that significantly,” said Jim Ballew, Marysville’s director of Parks and Recreation.
The project is estimated to cost between $1 million and $1.2 million, $500,000 of which was in the most recent budget from the Legislature.
That also meant that the city’s trail project was delayed due to the extended budget debates in Olympia this year. The original plan was to have the western segment of the trail done by the end of the year.
“We had to wait for the Legislature to approve the funding, and that was so delayed this year that we don’t even have a contract yet,” Ballew said.
The rest of the trail’s funding includes a $347,000 grant from the state’s Aquatic Lands Enhancement Account, which will require the city to put up matching funds.
“We’ve got it within our capital budget; it’s ready to go,” Ballew said.
The new plan calls for finishing the design work by the end of the year and expanding the project to include not just the trail, but other waterfront improvements and interpretive signs along the route.
Further out, the plans will include the eventual construction of a mile-long loop around the estuary connecting the trail’s west and east legs.
Funding so far only exists for the initial segments, meaning there will be a gap in the trail until some time in the future.
The Qwuloolt Estuary restoration project is intended to create better habitat in the Snohomish River watershed for migratory salmon, especially juveniles that need a place to mature for up to a year or two while they gradually get used to a marine environment.
The Tulalip Tribes have spent $20 million over 20 years on the estuary, with the final levee breach taking place Aug. 28.
All that’s left now is to seal off the former tide gates and dig a final stormwater pond, said Josh Meidav, a restoration ecologist with the Tulalip Tribes.
So far, Meidav said, the results of the levee breach have met their expectations.
“The channel itself at low tide or incoming tide is actually capturing a good amount of the Ebey Slough inflow,” he said.
Some marine fish have been seen in the upper reaches of the estuary and the reed canary grass is starting to die off, Meidav said.
The city plans to reach out to the scientific community, the tribes and even the birdwatching community to provide input into the interpretive elements of the trail.
“We’ll be spending a lot of time with those specialists,” Ballew said.