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Jefferson Award, Mark Boyar: A future is bridged for the wild

Thursday, April 5, 2007
Last updated 8:18 a.m. PT

By LISA STIFFLER
P-I REPORTER

NORTH BEND -- The woodsy Middle Fork stretch of the Snoqualmie River was once so lawless that Mark Boyar had to help guard a new bridge there for more than a month.

If he and others hadn't kept a 24-hour vigil, the wooden footbridge awaiting installation likely would have been set ablaze, crashed into with trucks or shot at. Or possibly all three.

 Mark Boyar
 ZoomJulie Graber / Special to the P-I
 Mark Boyar looks at the peaks surrounding the Middle Fork Snoqualmie campground, a facility he was instrumental in getting built. The campground, which opened in May, was the first in the Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest since the 1970s.

The wildlife most prominent in this valley in the 1980s and '90s were meth addicts cooking drugs in cars and trailers, thieves gutting stolen vehicles at riverside chop shops and gun-toting hooligans sending bullets whizzing past trails and over the river.

The beautifully arching wood and cable bridge survived unscathed and became the emblematic link between the Middle Fork's criminal past and its family-friendly, naturally gorgeous present.

The bridge gave "people a ray of hope" that the 110,000-acre valley could be reclaimed, said Doug Schindler, director of field programs for the Mountains to Sound Greenway Trust.

"Mark was the first one who had the vision for that valley," Schindler said. "It really started with Mark and that bridge."

For his nearly two decades of work, Boyar was selected as one of the state's five Jefferson Award winners.

Boyar's interest in the Middle Fork grew from the desire to escape to the outdoors -- but stay near his Seattle home.

The valley cradling the river runs from Mount Si near Interstate 90 to the Snoqualmie's headwaters northeast of Snoqualmie Pass. Three-quarters of the land is within the Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest.

When Boyar arrived on the scene in the late '80s, the Middle Fork was a patchwork of ownership split between government agencies, timber companies and private landowners. It left no one taking responsibility for policing the illicit activities.

"It looked like a war zone," Schindler said. "You'd go up there and at every pull-off area there were people up there drinking and partying and shooting across the river. No sensible individual wanted to go up there."

Boyar, a product manager for a local medical software company, was one of the few who did. He teamed up with volunteers from the Alpine Lakes Protection Society, The Mountaineers and Goldmyer Hot Springs who were working with the U.S. Forest Service to replace a washed-out bridge over the Snoqualmie that would reconnect part of the valley with hikers. The footbridge and trail were opened in the mid '90s.

That success sparked the idea of a full rehabilitation for the woods and resulted in the creation of the Middle Fork Outdoor Recreation Coalition. The coalition, which Boyar co-founded and presides over, crafted a blueprint for recovery.

"We had this kind of crummy dot matrix-printed plan that we started taking around to the (government) agencies," Boyar said. "We didn't get too far."

They needed a broad coalition with widespread support for an overarching vision that would appeal to hikers, kayakers, mountain bikers, fishermen and horse riders. Boyar enlisted leadership from the Mountains to Sound Greenway, a diverse group working to protect a long swath along I-90 from development.

After two years of challenging negotiations, the Middle Fork public-use concept plan was created, mapping out far-reaching improvements for the valley.

It included land sales and swaps, which has turned 98 percent of the Middle Fork over to public ownership -- primarily the Forest Service, state Department of Natural Resources and King County. The Cascade Land Conservancy, Trust for Public Land and Mountains to Sound Greenways played key roles in acquiring the privately owned land.

It coincided with a massive cleanup effort spearheaded by Wade Holden, a resident of North Bend and ready adversary for the vandals and drug addicts. For 2 1/2 years straight, Holden worked in and along the river, hauling out cars dumped in the woods or run off roadways into the water. There were tons of appliances, furniture and just plain trash to clean up.

"Mark was integral to making it all happen," said Holden, president of the non-profit group Friends of the Trail. "He had the connections."

The plan also called for closing off old logging roads and turnouts where lawbreakers would hide or drive through the river. Now giant boulders block their way, and sword ferns, red cedars and Douglas firs are filling in areas once littered with beer bottles.

Last year a $2.1 million campground was opened, complete with grills, picnic shelters and dramatic views of the craggy mountains.

Boyar is praised for his ability to keep the project rolling. Over the years, he's secured more than 20 grants from businesses, non-profit foundations and local and national agencies.

"He's great to work with," said Jim Franzel, district ranger with the Forest Service. "He's very balanced. He's very principled. He has a knack for being able to find common interest and being able to capitalize on that."

The 50-year-old married father of two regrets that some evenings he has to close the office door to his kids to work on grants. Weekend days can vanish in the hours spent pulling invasive weeds -- his current focus for the Middle Fork.

But he hopes the towering Sitka spruce dripping with lichen and the slate-colored peaks softened with pillows of moss will be a legacy that future generations will enjoy.

"It's been a lot of work," he said, "but I can't imaging anything more personally satisfying."

GET THE WEEDS OUT

Join volunteers battling Scotch broom and Himalayan blackberry bushes before they take hold in the Middle Fork stretch of the Snoqualmie River: mtsgreenway.org/volunteer and cascadeland.org/stewardship/our-lands/mid-fork-legacy-area

THE JUDGES

Five community judges selected today's five recipients of 2007 Washington State Jefferson Awards from the more than 90 people nominated by P-I readers.

The judges for this year's Washington State Jefferson Awards were:

  • Seattle police Chief Gil Kerlikowske

  • Roberto Maestas, co-founder and executive director of El Centro de la Rasa

  • Andrea Taylor, Microsoft's North American community affairs director

  • Maria McDaniel, marketing director of Ambia, a Seattle architectural and design firm

  • Candace Heckman, the P-I's breaking news team leader

    NOMINEES

    For a list of local Jefferson award nominees, see seattlepi.com/jefferson


    P-I reporter Lisa Stiffler can be reached at 206-448-8042 or lisastiffler@seattlepi.com.

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