Mixed Fresh and Saltwater Marsh
Harbor Square business park on Dayton Avenue
The saltwater marsh in downtown Edmonds originally covered much of the waterfront area from Marina Beach to Brackett’s Landing, but almost a century of industrial development and urbanization dramatically altered the landscape.
In 1962 saltwater inflow to the marsh was eliminated by sending the fresh water outflow through a pipe and installing a tide gate. The area underwent substantial commercial development in the early 1970s and about half of the remaining wetland was filled in order to pave and build.
When the marsh was cut off from its daily influx of saltwater it evolved into a freshwater wetland fed by two creeks from the east. Cattails became dominant, which are welcome habitat for many species, but they also choked out other native plants.
In 1981 the marsh was deeded to the City of Edmonds by Unocal (Union Oil). In 1988 saltwater influx was re-established with the opening of the tide gate and the marsh again evolved as a result. Large expanses of cattails still fill the less saline portions of the marsh, but saltier areas now have open bodies of water surrounded by grasses. With the increased diversity of habitat has come increased diversity in birds and animals.
Today the Edmonds Marsh covers 22 acres and is a wildlife sanctuary. It is one of the stops on the The Washington Audubon Society’s Great Washington State Birding Trail Cascade Loop, with more than 190 species of birds having been ID’d. Deer and coyotes are also occasionally seen here.
About 98% of all saltwater marshes between Everett and Tacoma have been lost to development, so the protected Edmonds Marsh is now a rare treasure.
Plans are underway to daylight Willow Creek into and out of the marsh. The creek will be freed from about 1,000 feet of pipe and will be allowed to meander naturally across Marina Beach to the Sound. This daylighting should aid salmon migration.
Before young salmon make their final move from streams into the open waters of Puget Sound they need protective habitat like the marsh where they can feed and grow. There are fewer predators, lots of hiding places, and shade from vegetation to keep the water cool. With the return of a natural stream channel at the shoreline, many hope coho will return to the area and start spawning up the creek again.
Note: This is a wildlife sanctuary and dogs are prohibited. You can always visit the dog park at Marina Beach first to let the pooch run around, then leave him/her in the car for a nap while you enjoy the marsh.
This is the sixth and final installment of my coverage of the downtown Edmonds waterfront area.
The Edmonds Marsh has a total of four view platforms, two on the west side linked by a boardwalk, and two to the east of the parking area linked by a paved walking path.
I think it’s safe to say that the Edmonds Marsh is the most accessible wetland viewing area of its type in the greater Seattle area. Most wetlands have long paths and/or boardwalks with few to no places to rest along the way. The first view platform at the Edmonds Marsh is only about 20 feet from the closest parking spaces. It’s difficult to get more convenient than that.
While the entire area is completely devoid of benches, the first platform is close enough to parking to easily tote a camp chair or stool if you plan to stay for a while and need to sit part of the time. None of the distances between platforms are very long, so most people are able to see the whole thing if they wish.
The parking area is a dirt strip in front of the marsh. The two west platforms are at the west end of parking and both are easily seen from your car.
The two east platforms are down the paved path from the east end of the parking area, the first one only a short distance and easily visible once you get out of the car and on the path. The second east platform can’t be seen until you get closer to it because it’s around a bend in the fence.
I’ve only been to the Marsh three times, and two of those visits were quite brief, so the list of birds I have personally seen here is extremely short and doesn’t contain anything out of the ordinary. But over 190 species of birds have been identified here over the years. What you will see depends on season, time of day, and a lot of luck.
I did luck out on a visit in February, in that I evidently arrived at heron naptime in the middle of the day. Thirteen great blue herons were gathered to rest in an area between the first and second west view platforms and that was a treat to see.
The Edmonds Marsh is a bit unusual because weekends are the best time to visit. On weekdays there is a lot of barking from the doggy daycare on the other side of the fence from the boardwalk. There can also be noise and unpleasant fumes from a boat repair yard on the other side of the fence from the second west platform. Additionally, much of the parking on weekdays is taken up by people working at Harbor Square businesses. Weekends tend to be much more peaceful.
Some other things to consider when timing your visit are season, time of day, and weather.
The greatest variety of birds can be usually seen during spring and fall migrations. Winter also tends to have a greater variety than summer due to several species wintering here and then heading east into the mountains or north to breed in late spring.
Birds tend to be most active in early morning and late afternoon. The middle of the day tends to be naptime, especially if it’s hot. Birds also tend to be more active on cooler overcast days than bright sunny days when the temps heat up in late spring and summer.
If you want to combine a marsh outing with grabbing a drink or eating a meal, the Channel Marker Pub is located nearby in Harbor Square. It’s a low-key, casual joint with an extensive menu, including daily specials. I’m fond of the beef stroganoff.
If you want the full dining experience you can hop over the tracks to the Port of Edmonds for seafood at Arnies or Anthony’s, or visit one of the numerous restaurants in the downtown Edmonds business district.
Things to Know
Dawn to dusk.
There is a nearby pub in Harbor Square and public bathrooms at Olympic Beach.
A strip of free parking is located along the north edge of the marsh.
There is one handicap space close to the first view platform.
Parking tends to be mostly full on weekdays during business hours. Parking is usually plentiful on weekends.
I’ve only been here three times, twice on weekends and once on a weekday. On all three occasions there were 2-6 other people around the area, the number shifting as people arrive and leave. I got the sense this is typical activity and you can probably expect about the same unless a school class or birding group shows up.
Best light: early morning, late afternoon.
Birds I’ve Seen
Spotted towhee, seagulls, bald eagle (flying very high overhead), Anna’s hummingbird, song sparrow, redwing blackbird, great blue heron.
Marina Beach, Olympic Beach, Brackett’s Landing, ferry ride, Sunset Avenue, Edmonds restaurants.
Blue Collar Doghouse Hours
I’m including this so if you want to avoid the worst of the barking from next door you know when to go.
Monday – Friday: 7 am – 7 pm
Saturday: 9 am – 5 pm. No daycare on Saturdays but business still open for grooming, training classes, etc.
If you’re coming from outside the surrounding area there is a best way to get to the Edmonds Marsh. If you’re arriving from the north it looks out of the way to use this route, but trust me, this is much easier than driving through congested Lynnwood traffic with all the stop lights. The speed limit is 40 mph for at least half the distance using this route.
From I-5 take the Highway 104 exit for the Edmonds ferry and head west.
Follow the highway, pass under Hwy 99, and keep going for quite a distance. Once you pass straight through a major intersection with shopping centers stay in the right lane and look for the ferry signs.
As you start to head down the hill the highway will split in two and you want the right branch as if you’re taking the ferry.
After the road curves around and flattens out you will come to a traffic light. Turn left at the light onto Dayton Street.
On your left is the Harbor Square business complex. Take the second left into the complex.
Drive south through the parking lots and past offices until you get all the way to the back. You will see the parking strip at the edge of the marsh.