Cutthroat trout swim over Western pearl shell mussels at the Northwest Stream Center in south Everett. ( Tom Murdoch)

Cutthroat trout swim over Western pearl shell mussels at the Northwest Stream Center in south Everett. ( Tom Murdoch)

When the quarantine is eased, a watershed wonderland awaits

The Northwest Stream Center gets ready to reopen when the county is cleared for Phase 2 of the state COVID-19 plan.

EVERETT — The staff at the Northwest Stream Center wish you could be here.

They wish you could stroll the half-mile Elevated Nature Trail through 32 acres of wetlands and woodlands.

They wish you could peer through the windows of the Trout Stream Exhibit to watch mussels procreate.

They wish you could just sit a spell and admire the colors and greenery of spring, with busy 128th Street SE close and yet so far away.

Because of the coronavirus emergency, it’s all off-limits now.

“You feel bad — especially now, which is the most beautiful time of the year in the Northwest,” said Kelly Singleterry, the foundation’s media and communication manager. “Everything is coming alive.”

That includes a new generation of Western pearl shell mussels, a fresh-water species that is not to be confused with the invasive zebra mussels. After fertilization, baby mussels live inside the mother’s shell cavity until she decides it’s time to send them off on their own.

But they’re not completely on their own. The baby mussels, which Adopt-a-Stream Foundation director Tom Murdoch described as “translucent Pac-Men,” attach themselves to trout’s gill tissues. They stay with their finned hosts — which would eat them if they could — for several months, until they’re strong enough to withstand the bites of trout and the pincers of crawfish.

“Whoever thought the sex life of mussels could be interesting?” Murdoch said.

When they grow up, the critters will filter up to 13 gallons of water a day throughout their lifespan, which can exceed 100 years. The beneficial beasts — and a 300-foot buffer between North Creek and nearby development — make the Stream Center grounds a model riparian, or stream-side, zone for the area, Murdoch said. If you go upstream to North Creek’s headwaters near Everett Mall Way, the buffer shrinks to 20 to 30 feet — at best, he said.

The center won’t be closed to visitors forever. Stream Center staff are working on a safety plan when the place is allowed to open, possibly when Snohomish County is green-lit for Phase 2 of the state’s reopening program. Only a certain number of visitors will be allowed in at a time, and they’ll be required to wear masks and treat the loop trail as a one-way route, Murdoch said.

Even though the center has been closed since mid-March, several foundation volunteers have been cleared to do landscaping and rehabilitation work, such as planting wildflowers.

And stream restoration work, the foundation’s primary revenue source, was OK’d to resume under Phase 1 of the state plan. Since May 11, crews have planted more than 4,000 trees and shrubs alongside streams such as the middle fork of Quil Ceda Creek in Marysville. The trees and shrubs shade the streams, helping to keep water temperatures cool, which salmon and trout need.

The center also is planning a watershed education program for high school seniors and recent graduates. They hope to have it running after schools reopen.

In late June, center staff plan to put on a Zoom event on native pollinators that will accommodate up to 100 virtual attendees, once the details are worked out.

But when it comes to the natural world, the virtual is far from a perfect substitute for the authentic.

“We hate the idea of being the only people who can enjoy this place right now,” Murdoch said.

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