A legacy that will last forever

Saturday’s ribbon-cutting ceremony to mark Mukilteo’s February acquisition of Japanese Gulch was a long-time coming. It’s also a big deal, illustrative of the power of collaboration and a best-practices M.O., which other communities should try to emulate.

The city of Mukilteo’s purchase of the 98-acre property was the culmination of a long, grassroots campaign to save the area and, by extension, enshrine the narrative of turn-of-the-century Japanese immigrants. Japanese families lived at the gulch from 1903 until 1930, when the Great Depression swept away local timber jobs.

“Mukilteo was a small town and the Mukilteo Lumber Company needed workers in order to keep the mill running. The Japanese workers were needed,” Historian Margaret Riddle writes in a 2007 HistoryLink essay. “Mukilteo residents began visiting and accepting their Japanese neighbors. They taught them to speak English and how to play the piano. In return, the Japanese loyally bought local goods and sent their children to Rose Hill School.”

In 2000, descendants of several of the original Japanese families came together to unveil a bronze sculpture of an origami crane by artist Darryl Smith. The monument, emblematic of racial peace, was the work of the Mukilteo Historical Society and Masaru Odoi, who was born in Japanese Gulch in 1921.

Here is a place with historical resonance and conservation values: Mature forests and wetlands, home to blue herons and bald eagles, cut by two miles of Japanese Gulch Creek, habitat for coho salmon.

The property, owned by Metropolitan Creditors Trust of Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, was zoned light industrial. It stitches a landscape loved by mountain bikers and outdoor enthusiasts. The challenge was cobbling the money, potentially $6 million or more.

What began with a handful of neighbors and history buffs soon found political expression. A 2012 property-tax measure received 58 percent of the vote, two percentage points shy of the supermajority required. But intense negotiations behind the scenes with the seller, bolstered by a $2.5 million grant from the Snohomish County Conservation Futures fund, made the difference. The patchwork of funding includes $1 million from the state, an earlier $1 million from the county, and $900,000 from the city’s real-estate excise tax and park-acquisition funds.

Forterra, the land conservation group, Mayor Jennifer Gregerson, and the board of the Japanese Gulch Group, which includes former Mayor Joe Marine, former Sen. Paull Shin, Sen. Marko Liias and Snohomish County Councilman Brian Sullivan and former Councilmember John Koster, deserve special credit. But so do the grassroots volunteers.

To paraphrase Edward Abbey, wild places such as Japanese Gulch need no defense, they only need defenders.

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