A rainbow appears in front of Andy Huestis and Alisha Garvin as they and other families gathered to remember the victims on the third anniversary of the 2014 Oso mudslide on March 22, 2017. Huestis’ sister, Christina Jefferds, and her baby granddaughter, Sanoah Violet Huestis, were among the 43 people killed. (Andy Bronson / Herald file)

A rainbow appears in front of Andy Huestis and Alisha Garvin as they and other families gathered to remember the victims on the third anniversary of the 2014 Oso mudslide on March 22, 2017. Huestis’ sister, Christina Jefferds, and her baby granddaughter, Sanoah Violet Huestis, were among the 43 people killed. (Andy Bronson / Herald file)

Funding secured: Mudslide memorial will be a place to remember

Since 2014, families have mourned at a roadside shrine near Oso, but “we knew we needed something bigger.”

OSO — More than seven years after a mudslide consumed an Oso community and killed 43 people, the last piece of funding has been secured for a permanent memorial.

When the Snohomish County Council approved the 2022 budget on Nov. 9, they included $4.8 million that will go toward telling the story of the victims, survivors and first responders.

“The entire Stillaguamish Valley is still recovering from the effects of the slide,” county Executive Dave Somers said in a news release. “… The SR 530 Slide Memorial will give families and our broader community a place to mourn, remember, and honor.”

Since the 2014 disaster, a shrine has been growing along what’s now named the Oso Slide Memorial Highway. Photos and mementos adorn a grove of trees planted for each victim. Nearby, bronze mailboxes evoke the Steelhead Haven neighborhood that was swallowed by the hillside in what was the deadliest landslide in U.S. history.

Community members have been planning a more expansive memorial for years. But funding has been hard to come by.

“We know that spaghetti feeds and yard sales are not going to fund it in time where I would ever see it in my lifetime,” said Dayn Brunner, whose sister, Summer, was killed in the slide.

Brunner said the grove of trees means a lot to the family. The one planted for his sister features horseshoes and was planted on nearly the same spot a wave of mud washed away her car.

Forty-three trees at the site of the 2014 Oso mudslide are adorned with photos and memorabilia to represent each of the victims. (Sue Misao / Herald file)

Forty-three trees at the site of the 2014 Oso mudslide are adorned with photos and memorabilia to represent each of the victims. (Sue Misao / Herald file)

“As time went on, we knew we needed something bigger. Something where their stories would be told,” Brunner told The Daily Herald.

The major funding boost means the place of mourning and remembrance will be transformed, likely in time for the 10th anniversary of the event. Construction will be split up between the next two summers.

“It was really up in the air before this,” said Carol Ohlfs, lead planner with the Slide Memorial Project. “It always felt like we didn’t really know where the funding would come from.”

In the new memorial, visitors will enter through a gateway into a circular paved gathering area. From there, a trail will lead people through shelters dedicated to first responders and the 11 survivors of the slide, all nestled between dense native plants. Standing metal panels with names inscribed in them will honor the victims, and a nearby reflection pavilion will face the fallen hillside. It’s a view that will slowly become obstructed as trees begin to regrow.

Before returning to the parking lot and bike racks, the path will meander through a “transformation area” lined with trees. Signs will tell the story of the land, the disaster and response, as well as the tribal history of the area. A story pole donated by the Tulalip Tribes will stand alongside the Whitehorse Trail.

Officials will also plant a special callery pear tree donated by New York’s “Survivor Tree” program. Every year, three saplings from the original tree that withstood the 9/11 attacks are donated to communities that endure a major tragedy. Snohomish County parks officials have been growing the sapling since 2014, waiting for it to be big enough to plant in the ground.

Landslide hazard assessments confirmed the park can safely be located at the foot of the hillside, Ohlfs said. It’s the right place for a lot of reasons.

(Snohomish County Parks, Recreation and Tourism)

(Snohomish County Parks, Recreation and Tourism)

“It’s the place where those family members passed away,” Ohlfs said. “It’s the place where families come to visit the site, and people from all over the world come to see what happened there and look at it.”

Claudia Yaw: 425-339-3449; claudia.yaw@heraldnet.com. Twitter: @yawclaudia.

Call for donations

Donations are still being accepted for construction and to pay for ongoing maintenance. Find information at slidememorial.com/support.

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