Just a few minutes off Highway 9, tucked away near the Snohomish River, is a county park that is easy to miss. Bob Heirman Wildlife Preserve at Thomas’ Eddy is on a winding country road that, at first, seems to go nowhere.
The park, in a peaceful bend of the river about 3½ miles south of Snohomish, offers 3 miles of trails, birdwatching, fishing, a wide beach and a quiet spot to enjoy nature. For families, the trails are fun to explore with kids. Ultimately, the trail diverges into several paths leading to a wide bar along the river — perfect for picnics, rock skipping and, in the summer, swimming.
The park area was once used for gravel mining. Bob Heirman, for whom the park was named, hated to see the damage to the prime fishing habitat of Thomas’ Eddy. He fought for years for get the mining stopped.
“It was a monumental battle to save Thomas’ Eddy,” Heirman said.
Eventually, he went to the Tulalip Tribes for help.The tribes hired an attorney and were able to stop the mining.
“The Tulalip Tribes were really saviors of Thomas’ Eddy,” he said. “They really deserve a lot of recognition for that.”
Heirman, 83, of Snohomish, devoted his life to habitat preservation, far beyond his efforts at Thomas’ Eddy. His business card says he is a “poet, historian, naturalist, sportsman, artist, tenor and guide.”
The land was also used for agriculture and in the 1980s it was going to be sold for housing. The county acquired the land in 1992 and the park was dedicated in 1994. In 2002, additional land was added, bringing the total area to 430 acres.
“Bob Heirman park is still a jewel, right up there at the top of important habitat for swans and other waterfowl,” said Martha Jordan, executive director for the Northwest Swan Conservation Association.
Jordan has spent decades studying swans. On the evening of Jan. 22, she counted 163 swans in the park.
“Shadow Lake has always been a safe haven for swans and a safe haven for ducks,” she said.
That’s because it’s in a sheltered area and hunting is prohibited. The lake also doesn’t have a problem with lead shot, which can kill swans.
Jordan has spent a lot of time at the park. She’s seen ducks caught by bald eagles and, once, a peregrine falcon.
“If you happen to be there at the right time, you can see really amazing things,” she said.
The area is also popular with anglers.
Heirman said that, in salmon season, it’s the most popular freshwater fishing spot in the county because it offers easy stream access.
Wayne Kruse, outdoors columnist for The Herald, emphasized the value of the bank access, which he says is some of the best for salmon fishing along the entire Snohomish River.
“That’s very valuable these days,” he said. “Bank access has become limited and a lot of people don’t have a boat.”
Kruse said that the area is mostly used for fishing for pinks or chum salmon and, less often, coho salmon. Occasionally steelhead can be caught there as well.
John Tucker, senior park ranger for Snohomish County Parks and Recreation, said that, in addition to the fishing, the park is a valuable resource for the community. It’s a great place for kids to study the environment, he said.
The floodplain at the park also offers downstream areas some relief from flooding during high water.
Sharon Swan, Snohomish County principal park planner, said the park’s location so close to towns is fortunate.
“You can get away from the city so easily,” she said.
When I visited the park with Swan, we heard a large splash as we walked toward the river. A few minutes later, a harbor seal popped up to take a look at us.
We speculated on what it was doing so far upstream.
Perhaps it simply wanted to check out the park Bob Heirman worked so hard to preserve.
A few days later, when I took my daughter and a group of friends to have a picnic on the beach, I remembered what Heirman had told me.
“I’ve worked really hard to leave something for somebody else,” he said.
I was grateful that, thanks to those efforts, I could sit on the edge of the river with friends, while our kids scampered around us.
Bob Heirman Wildlife Preserve
What: A protected natural area along the Snohomish River.
Why visit: Birdwatching, fishing, hiking, picnicking, swimming and wading in summer.
Where: From Highway 9, head south 3 miles from Snohomish to the intersection with Lowell-Larimer Road/Broadway. Turn left (east) onto Broadway. After just under a mile, veer left on Connelly Road. The park is on the left.
Swans: If you’d like to see the swans, Martha Jordan, executive director for the Northwest Swan Conservation Association, suggests arriving early in the morning to watch when they leave their roost. It’s an impressive sight. Or, before dusk, you can watch the swans land on Shadow Lake, the largest lake in the park, below the parking area. (Just remember the gate closes at dusk.)
What to know: No dogs. The park is open from 7 a.m. to dusk. Trails can get muddy and there are some fallen trees to scramble over on the dike trail. During floods, trails may be underwater.
Leave no trace: Pack out your trash. Anglers should be careful with fishing line, which if left behind can kill wildlife.
About this story: This is the first in a series of stories about the parks of Snohomish County. Have a favorite park you think should be featured next? Email firstname.lastname@example.org.