photo by Eric Mathison
Doug Osterman helped spearhead the restoration and beautification of Miller Creek and Walker Creek where they flow through the Normandy Park Cove property.

Normandy Park Cove goes natural (with helping hands)

By Eric Mathison

Visitors to a new stop on the annual Highline Garden Tour earlier this summer were greatly impressed by its beauty and ecological functionality.

Those who had not been to the Normandy Park Community Club—most people simply call it “The Cove”—in many years were especially delighted.

Before a massive renovation, the sprawling area between the Cove’s Native American-style log house building and Puget Sound was mostly a boring lawn. Walker Creek, in front of the clubhouse, was a straight stream that often flooded.

Maintaining the vast lawn was costly. Also, long-time Normandy Park residents remembered a time when Walker and nearby Miller Creek were filled with salmon and trout.

The community club’s board decided something had to be done.

“It was readily apparent we should try to achieve an ecological fusion of landscape restoration and garden renovation,” declared Doug Osterman, who helped spearhead the project “We knew we would have to do it in a way the community would accept.

“We had this big lawn as well as Walker and Miller creeks, which were very degraded with no habitat. That was our palette.”

Planning began in 2004 with the vegetation planted in the spring and summer of 2006. A grand opening celebration was held in October 2006. Donations and grants were matched by community club funds.

Working with a landscape architect, volunteers spent more than 2,000 hours at monthly work parties.

The straight Walker Creek was transformed into a meandering stream with lots of wood debris, stones and overhanging vegetation that provide “underground condos for fish,” according to Osterman. Juvenile Coho are now often seen in the creek.

Careful consideration was given to plant selection. Plants needed to be able to tolerate site conditions, require no pesticides or fertilizers, adapt to seasonal changes and be aesthetically pleasing. The volunteers built interpretive trails. A big bridge holds a crowd during large events with a smaller rustic bridge off to the side.

Also just in front of the club house, local artist Denny Thomas created a “Circle of Life” sculpture that depicts the four-year cycle of a spawning salmon.

To the north, a rustic path leads to a secret hideaway alongside Miller Creek. Between the two creeks is a white garden for weddings.

In fact, Osterman says the renovation allow brides to sweep into view on several scenic paths.

Not only has the project improved habitat for fish and cut down on maintenance, but it has also improved the Cove’s rentability, Osterman noted.

There is still a large lawn area but it is allowed to grow naturally and is not mowed until just before the community’s Fourth of July celebration. A renovated saltwater marsh with interpretive signs stands between the lawn and the beach.

Osterman emphasizes that the more natural setting does not mean maintenance is not needed. “Stewards of the Cove” hosts three-hour work parties on the second Saturday between March and October.

The work sessions also help build community interest and education, Osterman noted.