What happens next?

By Paige DeChambeau | Jan 16, 2013

As new director of the Japanese Gulch Group, many have asked me: What next?

Proposition 1, on the ballot last November, was about more than just whether the a bond to save the gulch passed or failed – it was also about sending a clear message that the community is indeed in support of preserving the last 98 acres of undeveloped land in Japanese Gulch.

The citizens of Mukilteo supported the measure overwhelmingly. Even though it was 158 votes short of the 60 percent benchmark to be bonded, it is clear to us that the people of Mukilteo want the gulch preserved.

In our view, this means that we should not stop our preservation efforts while there is still the opportunity to do so now.

While many already recreate in the gulch, less are aware of the history behind the land itself. In the early 1900s the lumber industry drew a disproportionate amount of Japanese emigrants to the Mukilteo Lumber Mills.

The Japanese workers lived in housing provided by the Crown Lumber Co. east of the mill in a wood ravine, and it soon became known as the “Japanese Gulch.”

By the 1930s, Crown Lumber closed shop and Japanese families gradually left Mukilteo in pursuit of work elsewhere. Within the gulch, artifacts have been found and the memory of those who toiled within the gulch lives on today.

The Japanese Gulch Group was founded nearly a century later in 2007 by local, concerned citizens who found out that this property was actually owned by someone and that it was in threat of being developed. They didn’t want us to lose this gem to development.

Those concerned citizens then founded the Japanese Gulch Group as a non-profit organization. They have been working feverishly to locate the money that is needed to purchase the land. Currently, a trust owns the last 98 acres and is charged with selling it.

The city of Mukilteo owns some of the land already. That includes the Precht Property (home to the community garden) and the area around the dog park (which is along 5th Street across from Centennial Park.)

The mission of our organization is to raise the funds necessary to acquire the balance of the land, about 98 acres.

Should the land be acquired, there will be much more discussion regarding what will be done with the rest of the land. The property could eventually become home to more gardens, parks, trails or even ball fields – but before any of these decisions can be made, achieving a viable financial plan is necessary.

The gulch group is lucky to have an amazing board made up of many local business leaders and champions of the cause. Not to mention all the amazing volunteers who work every Sunday to keep up the trails.

None of these people want to see the gulch group give up because the proposition was just 158 votes shy.

Instead, we will keep trying, innovating and working to secure the funds necessary to protect the land that so many people enjoy every day. That’s not to mention all the critters like birds, salmon and other fauna that would be displaced with any development there.

The gulch group is gearing up to tackle the issue of funding at all levels of government. We submitted a grant to the Snohomish County Future’s Board asking for more of their support. The upcoming legislative session will give us a chance to ask for support on the state level.

Locally, we will be working with the City Council and the mayor to vet the different options for the upcoming election cycle. That is where we may be asking for your support again.

Not many people have the chance to make such an important decision about acquiring such a magnificent piece of land for their city, but the citizens of Mukilteo will have that opportunity again.

Do you want the 98 acres to go to development, pollution and the exodus of millions of birds, squirrels and salmon? Or, do you want to choose preservation and keep Mukilteo green, clean and a destination for thousands of people who love using the gulch and the dog park every day?

We also depend upon the support of community members. You can do your part by attending the Mukilteo Mardi Gras auction where we will raise money toward the operating costs of the non-profit on at 6 p.m. on Saturday, Feb. 9, at Rosehill Community Center.

You can also join our Brave Trails Committee, Sunday, Jan. 27, as they continue to maintain the trails so that the gulch fun for all. You can also donate online or by mail; all donations are tax-deductible.

If you can’t come to an event or donate, then just go out and take a walk or visit the dog park and enjoy the gulch, like it is, while you still can. Once the local governments make their decisions and the gulch group knows where we stand, we will go from there.

Assuming there continues to be strong support from the community, this is not an unreachable goal. In fact it is just barely out of our grasp. Will you help lift us up the last few feet to grab it?

Paige DeChambeau is the director of the Japanese Gulch Group. She is leading the Save the Gulch 2.0 campaign to purchase and preserve nearly 100 acres of undeveloped land in the Japanese Gulch as parks and open space.

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