LYNNWOOD — Two teenage girls may be hailed as the guardian angels of Tunnel Creek in Lynnwood.
Dominique De La Fuente, 12, a seventh-grader at Alderwood Middle School, and Angela Shen, 14, a ninth-grader at Lynnwood High School, discovered the abused creek and are making it their mission to restore it. Tunnel Creek, which flows into Lake Washington, has become overgrown with non-native plants and clogged with litter.
The duo found experienced consultants and enlisted neighbors to volunteer during an environmental cleanup day scheduled for Nov. 20. They were successful garnering grant money from the city of Lynnwood to support the project. Then, to the teens’ disappointment, that grant money was rescinded due to the city’s financial woes.
“We were pretty disappointed to have come this far, then losing our grant,” Dominique told The Enterprise Nov. 12. “We gave fliers to all the neighbors and at our schools. We went to the Sustainability Fair in Maltby to meet more people. We worked with the LEAF School. Now we have plants ordered and no money to pay for them.”
Despite the loss of the grant, Dominique and Shen remained steadfast to their mission. They have worked the media to publicize their need for cash donations, earmarked for tools and supplies. Their plight was so heartfelt at City Hall that civic leaders got creative and found a voucher for plants, which was passed along to the girls Nov. 15. Innovative Landscape Technologies in Everett is donating cedar seedlings to sell for $1 with the proceeds going to the creek project.
Due to the girls’ perseverance, the creek cleanup work party is now on track.
Spurring the project was the girls’ foray into what neighbors called “the ditch” to recover balls that had rolled into the blackberry brambles. Once on the banks of Tunnel Creek, Dominique and Angela found old tires and car batteries, old computer parts, discarded lawn furniture and a thick undergrowth of invasive plants.
“We were just exploring, then we began picking up trash so that we could maneuver through the creekside,” Dominique said. “There is a sign saying ‘no dumping’ but people still do it.”
Despite their initial lack of funding or expertise, the duo embarked on a mission to clean up and restore their neighborhood creek. Consulting with a landscaper they found out that the first order of business would be to rid the banks of the invasive species and replace those with native plants. They began the hard work, pulling out blackberry canes, ivy and Japanese knotweed plus removing the litter left by illegal dumping.
“We were just walking around the creek and felt we wanted to clean it up, but we had no idea where to get the money to replace the plants or buy equipment,” Angela said.
When the city announced its matching grant program for neighborhood projects last summer, the girls thought they had found that pot of gold they needed. They attended the informational meeting and started collecting donations and pledges of volunteer support from local residents. Building their project’s war chest Dominique and Angela applied for a Lynnwood grant. To their delight, they were awarded $500 for materials and $500 for equipment.
The work party date was set, plants were ordered and the girls enlisted the assistance from Edmonds Community College’s Learn and Serve Environmental Anthropology Field (LEAF) School. They volunteered with the LEAF School’s environmental project at Gold Park to learn firsthand how to organize an event and enlist volunteers.
The forward momentum for the Tunnel Creek cleanup project took a detour Nov. 10 when the city of Lynnwood rescinded the $1,000 grant. The teens were informed that, due to the city’s dire financial forecast, the grant money was not going to be awarded. As the city faces $22 million in budget cuts to make ends meet, one of the casualties was the program focusing on the neighborhood matching grants.
“We’ve heard from neighbors that there used to be fish in the creek,” Angela said. “We’ve seen raccoons, squirrels and woodpeckers, but having fish would be nice.”