Natural legacy saved at last

The preservation of Japanese Gulch is a testament to community action. It’s a natural legacy which, like Seattle’s Discovery Park, will be enjoyed for generations.

As The Herald’s Bill Sheets reports, the city of Mukilteo’s purchase of the 98 acres was the culmination of a long, grassroots campaign to save the property and, by extension, enshrine the narrative of turn-of-the-century Japanese immigrants. As historian Margaret Riddle writes in a 2007 HistoryLink essay, Japanese families lived at the gulch from 1903 until 1930, when the Great Depression swept away local timber jobs. Unlike Everett and Darrington, Mukilteo citizens welcomed the Japanese. “Mukilteo was a small town and the Mukilteo Lumber Company needed workers in order to keep the mill running. The Japanese workers were needed,” Riddle writes. “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.

The broader, grassroots effort to save the gulch would take much longer, however.

The property, owned by Metropolitan Creditors Trust of Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, was zoned light industrial. As Sheets writes, 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.

Mukilteo’s outgoing mayor, Joe Marine, and the new mayor, Jennifer Gregerson, deserve kudos for their dedication. Likewise, the board of the Japanese Gulch Group, which include Marine, Sen. Paull Shin, Rep. Marko Liias and Snohomish County councilmen Brian Sullivan and John Koster.

Let’s also not forget who lit the fire. From Masaru Odoi to Explorer Middle School student Anushri Ramanath and the Japanese Gulch Youth Group, this was a victory by the people and for the people of Mukilteo.