Meeting planned on future of Iverson Preserve park on Camano

CAMANO ISLAND — As Island County officials work toward fixing a tide gate and dealing with drainage problems at Iverson Preserve, they want to kindle talks with neighbors and park-goers about the area’s future.

A public meeting is scheduled for Saturday afternoon to kick off a year-long planning and outreach effort. It starts at 1 p.m. at Four Springs House, 585 Lewis Lane on Camano Island. People can learn more about Iverson Preserve and weigh in with concerns or ideas for the stretch of shoreline. Island County also is looking for volunteers to serve on a team of neighbors, park users and county staff to lead more in-depth talks about Iverson.

Iverson Preserve is a popular destination for hiking, bird watching and dog walking bordered by hay fields, marsh and a residential neighborhood. It includes trails and public beach access on the east side of Camano Island. There is a pocket estuary there that once spanned about 120 acres, including 3,200 feet of shoreline. A hundred of the acres were diked and drained in the 1940s for hay farming. Island County now owns that land and leases it to a farmer.

Some of the trails and clearings at the public park have been flooding because the tide gate there is failing, project manager Lori Clark said. That’s the only for-sure change coming to the preserve, she said: Something has to be done to fix the tide gate.

The rest of the preserve’s future is up for discussion, Clark said. The county is looking for the best options to manage drainage in the neighborhood; prepare for storms or flooding and help homeowners do the same; preserve the park for the public; and restore habitats for native species, particularly chinook salmon.

A pocket estuary is a shallow, sheltered place where freshwater and saltwater meet. It provides a haven for juvenile salmon where they have food, protection from predators and time to grow and adjust to ocean water in the fresh-saltwater mix, said Dawn Pucci, salmon recovery coordinator with Island County. Iverson Preserve is in the path of young salmon migrating from the Stillaguamish and Snohomish rivers.

“It’s very valuable habitat because of its proximity to the rivers, so if we can add more habitat, we’d definitely like to,” Clark said. “But we’re not going to prioritize salmon habitat over homes or a park.”

Changes at Iverson Preserve have been discussed off and on since the county purchased the property in 1999. A study in 2001 came up with four possibilities. They included leaving the preserve as is, removing dikes to restore the estuary and two partial restoration options that fall in between. Researchers ultimately determined that more information was needed, particularly about the potential for flooding and saltwater intrusion in the area.

“We’re trying to see where different solutions might overlap for habitat, the community and the drainage issues we’re having out there,” Clark said. “There are a lot of issues that are important to people. We’re basically just going to ask them.”

During the meeting, attendants will be asked to suggest specific goals for the project, possible partnerships, opportunities for park users and neighbors to help, and the best timing and frequency for future meetings.

“We’re hoping to swing something that helps homeowners and helps the wildlife,” Pucci said. “We want to mine the great ideas out there that we haven’t heard yet.”

A lot of factors need to be considered, she said. Iverson Spit is changing on its own, with sediment piling up in Port Susan from the Stillaguamish River, more intense storms rolling in and a rising sea level. The needs of nearby homeowners or regular park-goers also may change, which is why public meetings like the one on Saturday are important, she said.

More information about the project is online at islandcountyeh.org/Projects/1312.

Kari Bray: 425-339-3439; kbray@heraldnet.com.

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