Photo depicting individuals getting kayaks ready on the Duwamish River.

Shared Spaces Foundation, the Heron’s Nest Focus on Duwamish River Environmental and Landback Projects

by Jadenne Radoc Cabahug

In October 2022, the City of Seattle granted $244,000 to seven Duwamish River community projects on as part of the Duwamish River Opportunity Fund (DROF). Since 2014, the program has funded organizations to improve the quality of life and sustainability of the neighborhood. The Duwamish River was listed as one of the country’s most toxic hazardous waste sites in 2001; the Lower Duwamish Waterway (LDW) Superfund site is a 5.5-mile long polluted area from South Park to Georgetown and requires a long-term response due to toxic chemicals polluting the river from years of industrialization. 

“The goal is not just to undo decades of industrial pollution and environmental injustice in these neighborhoods — it’s to build a thriving future for the communities who call them home,” Sam Read, Seattle Department of Neighborhoods communications director, wrote in an email to the Emerald

This year, Shared Spaces Foundation and the Heron’s Nest were each granted $40,000 to focus on environmental initiatives. Shared Spaces Foundation was created in 2019 to provide resources to underserved Seattle communities and rehabilitate the environment through education. They allocate all funds to ongoing community projects, land stewardship, and repatriation.

Duwamish River programs with Shared Spaces Foundation and the Heron’s Nest. (Photo: Amanda Lee)

Shared Spaces Foundation

Amanda Lee, Shared Spaces Foundation president, says the Duwamish River is in need of environmental restoration and rehabilitation since there is a high level of air, water, and land pollution. Soil quality, health, and the Duwamish Greenbelt canopy are degrading, and the forest and river need more upkeep. 

“There’s a lot of need [to] restore and maintain the forested areas that act as a buffer for air and water quality surrounding Sea-Tac airport, all of West Seattle, and the Duwamish River Valley,” Lee said. 

Lee says the funding from the grant will go toward the Duwamish River Accessibility programs, which are designed to continue monitoring the river, increase biodiversity through planting, provide education, and allow the river to be accessible to communities despite it being a highly industrialized area. 

One of these programs includes water safety trainings that allow people to do restoration work on the water, such as cleanups of garbage and waste. Money will also be allocated to providing canoes, kayaks, and other equipment to accomplish these water trainings and water-based tour guides to educate communities and organizations. 

Lee says the foundation will create a curriculum on the history of the river in partnership with the Duwamish Tribe, based on naturalist guiding information and Indigenous knowledge over the past 11,000 years. It will also include a look forward into restoration of the river to provide for a future for salmon and other wildlife habitats and a healthy shoreline. 

“There’s been a lot of damage done in a very short amount of time. Throughout development of the area that has displaced Indigenous people on the reservations,” Lee said, “we are seeing it in the reduction of salmon populations, the health of our forests, the health of the waterway and surrounding areas.”

Duwamish River programs with Shared Spaces Foundation and the Heron’s Nest. (Photo: Amanda Lee)

The Heron’s Nest

Shared Spaces Foundation is also the fiscal sponsor of the Heron’s Nest. In addition to providing outdoor community facilities, the Heron’s Nest is a “landback” project for the Duwamish Tribe. According to Lee, the Heron’s Nest helps the tribe acquire land through financial means, but also assists with “the physical work necessary towards land restoration, cost, remediation, labor, [and] facility accessibility, by helping cultivate volunteer[s] … rather than taking further resources from Indigenous/Native individuals in manual labor.”

Andrew Grueter, board member of the Heron’s Nest, says money from the grant will go to funding a community kitchen with culinary tools to make smoked salmon, cooked camas roots, and other traditional Indigenous foods from the area. 

In a typical month, Grueter says they host an artist market and several other programs including skill-share workshops and education programs, ecological restoration workdays, food forest and greenhouse care days and outdoor movies and musical performances. The Heron’s Nest runs their major proposals and potential projects by the Duwamish Tribal Council to ensure they have their approval. 

The Heron’s Nest also has strong relationships with other organizations like Seattle Tilth Alliance, who supported the project early on with restarting the greenhouse, and Seattle Global Shapers, who Grueter says were instrumental in assisting with getting the initial grant money to pay for the 3.5 acres. Their members are also involved in events and coordinating meetings with board members and volunteers.

With the grant money, Shared Spaces Foundation will create a new community partnership organization that will be developed and run by community partners including Duwamish Tribal Services, Duwamish River Community Coalition (DRCC), Sea Potential, Duwamish Valley Sustainability Association (DVSA), Puget Soundkeepers, the Port of Seattle, Dirt Corps, Young Women Empowered, and more. 

Lee says the foundation will mainly be sponsoring the beginning of this process, which will start in January 2023, and development of the program will continue through April. From May to July, Shared Spaces Foundation will offer stipended public safety trainings for BIPOC communities, to help diversify the paddling community. 

The grant funding will also go to activities, trainings, cleanups, and free tours for the public from May to October 2023, a community tool garden, plastics recycling center, and two volunteer coordinator positions. 

The community tool garden will include gardening and agriculture tools but also power tools for woodworking, metalworking, auto work, and home improvement. Both the community kitchen and tool garden are open to the public to use and for members of the Duwamish Tribe. The plastics recycling center will be used for educational demonstrations and drop-off recycling to recycle certain polymers commonly found in grocery packaging and river cleanups.

Agriculture and restoration projects will also receive a small part of the DROF grant, but Grueter says funding coordinators is crucial in order to keep ongoing projects running at full capacity. 

Lee and Grueter agree that the need for Indigenous leadership and governance of environmental issues in the Seattle area is crucial and immediate to maintain healthy ecosystems for future generations.

Duwamish River programs with Shared Spaces Foundation and the Heron’s Nest. (Photo: Amanda Lee)

Jadenne Radoc Cabahug is a senior at the University of Washington majoring in Communications: Journalism and Public Interest and double minoring in international studies and French.  She began her journalism career at 15 in Seattle through NPR KUOW 94.9 FM’s RadioActive Youth Media Program producing radio feature stories and podcasts. Since then, she has moved to print and online journalism, writing for local Seattle outlets like Crosscut, the International Examiner, the Daily and breaking international news Factal.

📸 Featured Image: 2022 Duwamish River paddling program with Shared Spaces Foundation and the Heron’s Nest. (Photo: Amanda Lee)

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