With the number of cranes perched on the Eastside, it’s no secret that the Puget Sound region is rapidly growing. Its population exceeded 4 million in 2017 and new developments from Renton to Snoqualmie continue to take shape. But while business is booming, there’s concern about the ecological footprint of our expanding cities. On the following pages, we talk to local stewards dedicated to protecting the area’s natural resources and public parks. We also highlight new green developments, and tell you how you can reduce waste at home.
The Upstream Battle to Keep Salmon Swimming
Kirsten Hardisty, volunteer docent at Friends of the Issaquah Salmon Hatchery
As bright yellow school buses full of wiggly grade-schoolers glided to a stop in front of the Issaquah Salmon Hatchery last fall, Kirsten Hardisty stood off to the side waiting for her assigned group of 10 to 15 students to make their way to her.
For the last five years, the real estate agent-turned-stay-at-home-mom has stood holding a bright-red stuffed salmon — which she affectionately refers to as Susie the Salmon — high above her head so the children can find her with ease.
This is hardly necessary, though, as Hardisty — who works as a volunteer docent for the hatchery — looks like a cartoon character, with her knee-high striped socks, a shockingly orange skirt, and a large fisherman’s vest loaded with key chains and pins proclaiming things like, “Put nothing but rain down the storm drain.”
“I want to keep their attention,” Hardisty said. “I’ve noticed that the more out of the box I can be, the more I keep their attention.”
Hardisty also wears a necklace made of garbage to help the children visualize the types of creek side trash that can be harmful to salmon and other animals. These necklaces have become such a hit with the kids that other docents have made similar ones.
During each tour, Hardisty speaks to the children about her grandfather and the home he purchased on Whidbey Island when she was 11 years old. She tells the children how she used to stand on the beach and cast her fishing line, catching salmon near the shore. She tells them how big and plentiful the fish were. Hardisty’s family still shares the property, but she finds it hard to reconcile present-day experiences with those from her childhood.
“I talk to (the children) a little bit about how that is a really short period of time to see such big changes,” she said. “Over the course of my lifetime, the salmon have gotten smaller, they’ve gone deeper.”
Hardisty said those drastic changes are why she has continued to volunteer at the hatchery year after year, hoping to inspire future generations of environmental stewards.
“The hope is that someday — not all of them but one or two of them — will be in a political situation where they can have that singular voice that will fund programs like this, or that will fund other programs that will help the environment and work toward sustainability,” she said.
“I talk to (the children) a little bit about how that is a really short period of time to see such big changes.”
A Traveling Tree House
Corey Weathers and Eric Gertsman, co-founders of Homegrown Trailers
Protecting the Earth sometimes involves reinventing the wheel. For Corey Weathers, his contribution was inspired on a summer day in 2013, when he decided to share his love of camping with his two daughters, who were then 3 and 6 years old. Once at his campsite, it didn’t take long for the father of two to realize that camping with small children was less than idyllic.
When he returned, Weathers began to research different types of travel trailers and recreational vehicles to accommodate his young family on subsequent outings, but he couldn’t find a suitable eco-friendly solution.
“I was really kind of appalled, one because of the size of the vehicle needed to tow most travel trailers, and two, the lack of inspiration and the lack of design and lack of general sustainability that actually went into travel trailers,” Weathers said.
So, with a bit of inspiration from his 6-year-old — who innocently asked her father whether he could build a tree house on wheels — and help from some friends in the construction field, as well as the consultation of co-founder Eric Gertsman, Weathers built his own 94-square-foot sustainable travel trailer in just six months.
“We want to get people out into nature and on road trips so they’ll take the adventures that inspire us; that is a big part of our mission.”
The result was tree house-like — to Weathers’ daughter’s specifications — which made it family-friendly. Weathers himself likened the creation to a cozy cabin on wheels. The lightweight, nimble wooden trailer featured solar panels, a 12-gallon water tank, a composting toilet, and bunk beds, and it fit into a standard residential garage, allowing users to go completely off the grid or host out-of-town relatives in their garage.
It would be another year or so before Weathers and Gertsman officially formed Homegrown Trailers in Kirkland, but now the duo’s earthy rental trailers have been booking steadily, and invoices for custom orders have come rolling in.
“We want to get people out into nature and on road trips so they’ll take the adventures that inspire us; that is a big part of our mission,” Gertsman said.
“Besides,” said Weathers, “in the Northwest there are only so many good weekends you can go camping.”
Tending to the Forest
Matt Birklid, Ranger at Bridle Trails State Park
All around Bridle Trails State Park in Kirkland, populations swell thanks to blossoming startups and expanding companies. Meanwhile, Ranger Matt Birklid walks the trails, protecting the grounds and the indigenous species that also hope to continue to call the area home.
Hikers also may not notice the maintenance work being done behind the scenes. That’s all on Ranger Birklid, who mows the grass, weeds the walkways, cuts the drainage ditches, repairs broken equipment, replaces light bulbs, and maintains structures and pastures. Essentially, he does it all.
Birklid is everywhere, but he’s sort of easy to miss. Save for his State Parks baseball cap, he doesn’t look like the stereotypical uniformed ranger. He dresses in a flannel shirt, olive khakis, and well-worn rugged boots — and has a wide smile on his face. He’s unable to hide his love for his job.
“This, this is my life,” he said, gesturing around him as he stood on one of the park’s paths.
About four years ago, Birklid — looking for a change — landed in the lower 48 from Alaska, where he was raised. Immediately, he found work in the meat department of a local big box store. He said he was making a living, but he wasn’t living his life. He was miserable.
“In Alaska, sometimes I would have inside jobs, but I would still get my fix of just going outside and going anywhere, but you can’t really do that here. It is so easy to feel cooped up,” he said. I knew I had to find something that would allow me to do that for eight hours a day.”
With no professional outdoor experience, Birklid received his current job based on his Alaska roots.
“It’s the culture up there to appreciate and embrace nature,” he said. “It has helped me a lot for this job, because you get put into situations where you have to thrive under pressure; you have to be able to think on your feet and have a good general base knowledge with an aptitude to learn. All those are Alaska life, because everything is harder up there.”
Green Developments on the Eastside
Buildings are rising all over the Eastside. But how do you grow green? We highlighted a handful of projects that are reducing waste from the ground up.
The Country’s First Net-Zero-Energy Townhome is in Issaquah Highlands
Issaquah Highland’s tagline is “living green.” In addition to having all the homes in the community certified Built Green, it also brings in goats to control the weeds. But its sustainable highlight may be zHome, a 10-unit townhome that uses zero net energy. It pioneered the carbon neutral structure that was built with only low-toxicity materials. The project broke ground just before the market crashed in 2008. But the project’s partners and three different builders kept zHome a reality.
IKEA Houses Largest Solar Rooftop in Washington
Money wasn’t the only green thing IKEA was going for when it built its new 399,000-square-foot store in Renton last year. In addition to the furniture store’s fresh look and features, the redesigned facility also represents the company’s commitment to the environment, housing the largest solar rooftop array in the state. According to IKEA, the 244,000- square-foot solar array is expected to produce approximately 1,261,000 kWh of electricity annually — equivalent to saving 886 tons of carbon dioxide, or the emissions of 187 cars. In addition to the solar array, the building also has all-LED lighting, both in the store and in the parking lot, as well as an energy-efficient heating and cooling system.
Areté Eco Flats in Kirkland Provide a Green Living Space
The City of Kirkland and the developer Natural & Built Environments received the Smart Project Award last summer for their collaborative development of Areté, a contemporary, mixed-use development. The LEED Platinum certified building is located downtown and includes 228 single-room occupancy apartment homes. It includes solar hot water (which provides 40 percent of the annual demand), triple-pane windows, blown-in-blanket insulation, advanced air sealing, 100 percent LED lighting, efficient central ventilation, and 96 percent efficient boilers with radiant in-floor heat.
Did You Know?
King County’s Landfill is the Size of 700 Football Fields
Cedar Hills Regional Landfill, King County’s only remaining landfill, is located in Maple Valley just west of Tiger Mountain State Forest. It stretches 920 acres — the equivalent of about 700 football fields. The landfill receives over 800,000 tons of solid waste a year. Environmental control systems are in place to monitor the landfill. Gas from the landfill is transmitted to the Bio Energy Washington (BEW) gas-to-energy plant and converted into renewable gas. The landfill is expected to reach capacity in 2027.
There’s a Treasure Trove at the Bottom of Lake Washington
The Puget Sound region may be a leader in environmental protection now, but for years, the area struggled with Lake Washington pollution problems. Between 1941 and 1963, the lake received increasing amounts of sewage that caused the water to smell. In the 1960s, the lake went through $140 million restoration campaign, one of the most-costly pollution control efforts in the country at the time. Today Lake Washington is much improved; however, there is a museum of artifacts that still lie on the bottom. Here’s what’s still down there.
- An old ferry
- World War II-era bomber
- Coal cars (still filled with coal) from the late 1870s
- Hundreds of boats
Bellevue Schools Set Example for Sustainability
School cafeterias can be incredibly wasteful. But last November, 20 Bellevue schools buckled down to cut lunch waste to 10 percent of the national average in the Green Genius Cafeteria Challenge. Puesta del Sol Elementary School came in first among elementary schools. Students averaged about 2.7 grams of garbage (the weight equivalent of a penny) on America Recycles Day in November. Sammamish High School and Chinook Middle School also came in first in their categories with students generating about 14 grams of waste that day (the weight of two quarters). According to the Environmental Protection Agency, 67 pounds of lunch waste are generated every year by the average American student.
Calculate Your Ecological Footprint
Check out just how sustainable you really are by visiting footprintcalculator.org.
This free ecological footprint calculator will tell you how many Earths it would take to sustain life if everyone lived like you — and your result is likely to surprise you. If it does, don’t worry: The calculator gives suggestions on easy ways you can decrease your ecological footprint, so you can take immediate action to become more sustainable.