Just Beachy

By KATHY KORENGEL

Herald Writer

EVERETT – An unexpected world exists only 15 minutes by boat from Everett’s waterfront. And Karen Knight wants to let you in on the secret.

Knight, chief naturalist at Jetty Island, has no trouble explaining what she does and why. "It’s a wonderful world, and a wonderful and terribly interesting place. It’s my job to impart wonder to the world."

Knight, along with four other rangers, will try to impart wonder about the natural world of the 2-mile-long manmade island to scores of visitors this summer. The rangers organize many of the island’s free programs, from daily nature tours to weekly puppet shows to sand castle building contests and fun runs. They also educate visitors about water safety and, on occasion, rescue stray swimmers or sealife.

Free boat rides to the island started Wednesday and will run Wednesdays through Sundays until Sept. 3.

And Knight, who has worked on the island for four summers, makes learning about the island fun, fellow ranger Mary Ross said.

"She’s real spunky. She knows a lot of stuff and knows how to present it in a fun way," Ross said.

Dressed in tan hiking shorts and wearing a military-green bush hat, Knight described how she built traps to catch wild birds as a child in Ohio. "I’d watch them for a week and then let them go," Knight said.

She later received a bachelor’s degree in biology and became a zookeeper, specializing in seabirds. She took a break to travel through New Zealand and Australia for nine months, including crewing on a boat from New Zealand to Fiji.

"And I got a husband along the way," Knight said with a grin, referring to her Australian-born husband, Rick, whom she lives with in Everett.

Jetty Island doesn’t look like much when you first arrive: a lot of bushes and tall grasses and a few scraggly cottonwoods.

"There’s no electricity, no running water, no concessions, and a lot of Scotch broom," a dark-green bush that covers much of the island. And that suits Knight fine.

For her, the attraction of the island is the pockets of unique ecosystems it harbors: a verdant salt marsh, a small grassland scattered with wisps of reddish and light-green grasses, a lagoon on the north end of the island that attracts hundreds of birds.

Knight offered up a piece of a small plant that tastes like salt because it stores salt in order to deal with its environment. "Every critter and plant has a special need," Knight added.

Even a non-nature lover can appreciate the beach on the west side of the island. "Standing in downtown Everett, this is the last thing you’d expect here," Knight said, pointing to the long, sandy beach edged with fluorescent green seaweed and mud flats.

Much of Knight’s job involves leading nature tours, talking about the whales that were spotted recently offshore, what birds have been seen on the island – herons, bald eagles, peregrine falcons, barn owls – and why it matters.

Knight, like the other rangers, has other duties as well, such as dealing with the visitors in other ways.

Lorraine McKinstry, another ranger, remembered having to ask some nude sunbathers to button up.

"They started getting mad at me," McKinstry recalled, but eventually complied.

Other times, the rangers have had to rescue injured wildlife or even people who think they can swim back to shore. The rangers warned against trying it because of the strong currents and the barges that ply the channel.

Some of the greatest rewards for the rangers, however, are also the people, especially some of the regulars. McKinstry especially remembered some of the physically and mentally challenged visitors.

Knight added: "They all know us and give us hugs."

Ross enjoyed leading a tour of blind visitors.

"It was really a challenge to try to think how to help them appreciate the island. They couldn’t see a flower, but they could smell it and feel it," Ross said.

Although Knight, like the other rangers, spends much of her job explaining flora and fauna to the island’s guests, part of her goal is to show how Jetty Island’s natural world is a microcosm of the rest of the natural world.

"It’s a small world," she said. "What we have is fragile. When people understand things, the more likely they are to take care of them."

You can call Herald Writer Kathy Korengel at 425-339-3207or send e-mail to

korengel@heraldnet.com.

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