2017 highlights in the Sky Valley

A year filled with successes, tragedies, community support

Kelly Sullivan

The Sky Valley saw some big strides in 2017. This year alone hundreds of acres of land were preserved for public use.

Nonprofit Forterra announced funds needed to acquire property from Weyerhaeuser were raised to save the aesthetic of the Lake Serene Trail. The Seattle-based organization, which works to protect keystone lands, had until Oct. 30 to gather $275,000.

“Thanks to you, the trees along the trail will be protected from logging and public access to the trail will never again be restricted,” Forterra stated in a message to the more than 600 community members who donated.

Just down the highway, the proponents of Heybrook Ridge finally celebrated its preservation. It was almost exactly 11 years after the first notice of proposed logging was posted at the Index General Store.

The grand opening of the roughly 145-acre Heybrook Ridge County Park in Index was held in October. Snohomish County Parks, Recreation and Tourism staff credited Index-based nonprofit Friends of Heybrook Ridge as largely responsible for the effort. The group had to raise $1.2 million to purchase the swath. Many agencies and organizations were involved in the work, but an anonymous donor who contributed $500,000 gave the project a major leg up.

Another local coalition saw some success with the long-planned Singletary Timber Sale. Snohomish County Superior Court Judge Millie Judge decided in late summer to uphold an appeal of the sale by three environmental groups. Her ruling requires the Department of Natural Resources to conduct another State Environmental Policy Act (SEPA) review of the acreage.

Friends of the Wild Sky, the Pilchuck Audubon Society and the Skykomish Environmental and Economic Alliance (SVENA) hoped the lawsuit filed this spring would stop the logging altogether. They believed the lawsuit might inspire development of an alternative route to make use of the land.

Many lives were lost this year in the same wild places that so many worked to preserve.

In July the Snohomish County Medical Examiner’s Office identified a body recovered from the Skykomish River as that of Shauna R. Geffon. She was a 25-year-old Texas woman who disappeared in the water east of Index on June 27. The incident came less than two weeks after 49-year-old Adrian B. Jovanovic fell in the water at the same spot at Sunset Falls. He had been out walking in the area with his girlfriend.

That same month the Snohomish County Sheriff’s Office Search and Rescue Unit recovered the body of a 37-year-old Monroe man from an island on the Skykomish River, and fishermen out boating spotted the body of 70-year-old Olaf Eriksen, who went missing after he had taken his usual walk from his home.

In September a man was pulled from the waterway still alive after being submerged for 30 minutes. He later died.

Later that month a 32-year-old Seattle man, Yuri Natanzon, fell in near Wallace Falls inside the state park and died. An 18-year-old girl also died in late July after she fell into the water. Haylei Hughes was crossing Wallace River on July 26 with friends when she slipped.

Local agencies responded to other major incidents.

The Monroe Police Department was involved in a number of car chases this year, including one where a husband had doused his wife with gasoline and held a knife to her throat while driving the wrong way down the highway.

Monroe resident Rene Fabian Carmona Ruiz told law enforcement he had wanted to be killed by police following his arrest after the high-speed pursuit. An MPD officer threw down spike strips that ultimately made the car inoperable.

The 38-year-old driver was suspected of being high on meth at the time of the chase. He was ultimately sentenced this fall to 1 1/2 years in prison with credit for time served.

Despite this year’s tragedies many people were able to find safety and warmth with a little help from the community.

When the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community Seattle’s Monroe mosque was vandalized, residents came to offer support. Someone had written “F*** U” on the building at 23515 Old Owen Road.

Five pets found their way from Hurricane Harvey’s floodwaters to Pasado’s Safe Haven in Monroe earlier this year. The dogs traveled nearly 2,300 miles from where they were displaced during the natural disaster that killed dozens of people and forced thousands to leave their homes.

Local fire districts sent firefighters to aid in some of the larger blazes in Washington and the Pacific Northwest. At the same time Fire District 7 was balancing a big move and construction project.

The agency’s executive staff relocated to work under one roof, which neighbors Fire Station 31 in Monroe. Around the same time ground was broken at the site of its new station, which is expected to improve response times to Lost Lake and Echo Lake communities once open.

In hopes of improving services in Monroe, Mayor Geoffrey Thomas, who was reelected to the seat this fall, and new city administrator Deborah Knight, introduced a plan to build up tourism and the economy. The Monroe City Council approved members for the temporary Economic Development Advisory Board last month.

The group also approved this year’s budget, which includes nearly $90 million in expenses, with transfer, across all accounts. Acting in agreement with Thomas’ recommendation, the council voted not to raise the city’s portion of property taxes in 2018, not counting new construction.

Charges for water and stormwater services will go up by 7.5 percent and 4 percent respectively — the same as in 2017. Sewer rates will remain the same.

Kirk Pearson helped Thomas and dozens of other agencies and organizations advocate to secure state funds to improve the commute for many Sky Valley drivers. The State Route 522 Paradise Lake Road intersection replacement project in Maltby is now a step closer to coming to fruition.

The Washington State Department of Transportation’s budget for the 2017-19 biennium includes $750,000 for design, traffic analysis and community engagement. The chunk was set aside by legislators this past session.

It was one of the last efforts Pearson took part in during his 17 years in the Washington Legislature. This fall he resigned to take a position in President Donald Trump’s administration. The Monroe resident was appointed as rural development state director for the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Sultan’s former mayor Carolyn Eslick also made a big job change this year. She was tapped this fall to fill the seat left vacant by former Rep. John Koster in August. She will still be around the Sky Valley when she can, and said she will miss her time as the city’s head official.

“It was an experience that I will never, ever forget,” Eslick said then.

Photo by Jim Scolman: Santa and Mrs. Claus spread the word about Light Up Monroe during the 2017 Monroe Fair Days parade. Photo by Kelly Sullivan: People came out again to the Frank Wagner chimney to witness the Vaux’s Swifts as they stopped in Monroe on their way to southern Mexico and Costa Rica.


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