Marsh Island: Summer Highs, Winter Lows

I had to cancel my usual Father’s Day activity (a canoe ride around Marsh and Foster islands) due to inclement weather. I’m not just talking about the weather today (although usually it’s sunnier). I’m talking about the weather over the past few weeks or so, and what it’s done to the waterlilies (made them late bloomers).

Most other people will shrug and go canoeing anyway, and heck, let’s bring the dog along too. But I could really only count on the husband to canoe with me maybe once or twice more for the season, and I couldn’t trust anyone else not to capsize me while making the dash across the Montlake Cut. What’s a girl to do? I canceled and rescheduled for later in the month.

I had gotten a friend to press his nose against the bus window on the way to work one morning to check on the waterlilies one more time. But I couldn’t resist going to check on them myself. Even though I wasn’t going canoeing, I wanted to make sure that they really were doing badly, and if they were doing well, I wanted to be there for it. It turned out to be a great idea. Those in the know, know that with the 520 bridge closed for maintenance, the arboretum and surrounds are silent but for various birdcalls. Everyone was peacefully going about the business of having a quiet Sunday.

I was, too, but I wanted to head over to Marsh Island and see what the flowers were doing there. Imagine my dismay when I got there and found that it was under water. Well, ok.. not the whole thing. Just most of the trail around the island. As I balanced precariously on one of the wooden beams that frame either side of the trail (sometimes the only thing that was just above water) a largish boat disobeyed the no-wake zone. The resulting wave heading for me looked like a tsunami. I fled back to the safety of the bridge as the wave engulfed the path.

What gives? Is this normal?

Over to the visitor’s center I went, to quiz the hapless staff. It turns out that it’s not normal, but they don’t know why. They guess maybe the level of the lake is higher, but also, they have been receiving more complaints since Foster Island got remodeled. I don’t know what it is about remodeling an island that would cause another island to sink, but I do know about the level of the lake, and when I got home, the first person I called was Susan over at the Ballard Locks. So what gives, Sue?

She explained that for the past 15 years, the Corps (Army Corps of Engineers, that is) has been doing exactly the same thing. On April 1st (no joke), they let the level of the lake go up to its summer high, which I believe is about 2 feet higher than the winter level. Around October or so, they drain it back down to its winter low. Did they add a little more water this year as a joke on those arboretum folks — one visitor’s center to another, so to speak? Nope. How about snow melt? Or all that rain we got on Friday? Nope. I guess they are pretty strict about that sort of thing in the Army. They probably go out every day with a piece of string or a tape measure and see what’s what.

OK, so there you have it. A walk around Marsh Island? Exactly the same as a canoe ride. So better learn how to swim — or at least, dog paddle.

1 Comment so far

  1. Colin (unregistered) on June 18th, 2006 @ 10:49 pm

    I used to jog across the trail that leads through Foster Island and Marsh Island early in the morning, but I had to give it up late last year. Even with the lake at its winter low point, the ground was so sodden and…well…marsh-like that it was like trying to jog through quicksand.

    A canoe or a kayak is definitely the way to explore that part of the arboretum these days.



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