On any given day, volunteers and members of the Skagit Marine Resources Committee might be found on area beaches, playing with their families or doing work such as setting traps for invasive species.
“I just got off the beach; I was out at Bowman Bay with my granddaughter,” former Deception Pass State Park manager Jack Hartt said as he took the microphone Tuesday at an event to celebrate the committee’s 20 years of work.
Hartt worked with committee members and volunteers on a beach restoration project at Bowman Bay, a place he remembers visiting as a child.
The project involved removing rocks that had been previously placed on the shoreline to protect infrastructure.
“The Skagit MRC helped re-create the beach ... It was totally rebuilt the way a beach should be,” he said.
For 20 years, the committee — one of seven formed in the region under the Northwest Straits Initiative — has done that type of work in Skagit County.
Congress authorized the initiative in 1998 in an effort to establish community-driven conservation in the area.
Terry Stevens, former director of the Padilla Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve, said he was involved in the initiative’s passage and has enjoyed seeing the MRCs grow.
“Through the tremendous efforts of the MRCs, especially the Skagit, they’ve done amazing things,” he said.
In addition to beach restoration work, the committee leads projects including restoration of the Olympia oyster, monitoring for invasive European green crab, hosting family events and helping with youth education programs.
“I have four pages of projects and descriptions of projects and reports that were produced, created and carried out by this MRC — and that is really impressive,” said Nan McKay, a member of the Northwest Straits Commission that oversees the work of the committees.
She highlighted a few, including the Salish Sea Stewards program that trains dozens of volunteers each year, nearshore monitoring that has helped show forage fish have returned to restored beaches, and the removal of invasive spartina plants in the 1990s.
“There is a new project starting or a new phase of a project starting every year of the 20 years we are celebrating,” McKay said.
Skagit MRC members are appointed by the Skagit County Board of Commissioners.
Members currently include community members, scientists, members of the Swinomish and Samish tribes, a fisheries expert and representatives of the Skagit Land Trust, Port of Anacortes and Shell Puget Sound Refinery.
Committee Chair Sarah Tchang said retired marine scientist Paul Dinnel is the only original member still serving.
Tchang said during the past 20 years, the group has trained about 200 volunteers. In the past decade, volunteers have contributed about 51,000 hours toward restoration, monitoring and education programs.
“That’s an incredible amount of work,” she said.
The committee’s work is funded in part by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, as well as by state and county government programs and private donations.
In the past 10 years, the committee’s work has been valued at about $4.8 million.