For Seattle resident Mark Boyar, polishing the Middle Fork of the Snoqualmie River to a recreational jewel has been a labor of love.
As the river swirls around the rock where he is perched, Mark Boyar looks perfectly at home.
After more than two decades working to polish this recreational jewel, for Boyar the valley along the Middle Fork of the Snoqualmie River has become his second home, even a member of his family.
“It really is my oldest child, ” he said.
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Some 22,000 acres of this lowland river valley, with the Pratt and the Middle Fork of the Snoqualmie rivers running through, are proposed for permanent protection by Congress. The forest would be added to the existing Alpine Lakes Wilderness Area, created in 1976, and the two rivers would gain protection from dams or other development under the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act.
And if there’s any one person who has helped get the valley the national attention many believe it deserves, it’s Boyar, the Man of the Middle Fork.
“I would call him the godfather. He has always been the one who has carried the ball. The Middle Fork never would have gotten to the place where it is without him,” said Wade Holden of Friends of the Trail, a nonprofit cleanup business based near North Bend. Holden spent years hauling trash out of the Middle Fork Valley, a legacy of decades of illegal dumping.
“It is such a gorgeous area, and it had been just hammered for so many years; you wouldn’t believe the knot-headed activity that went on up there,” Holden said. Dead washing machines riddled with bullet holes, junked cars, trash by the ton, illegal shooting, a meth lab — portions of the Mid Fork Valley have seen it all.
Rick McGuire of the Alpine Lakes Protection Society, a nonprofit conservation group, met Boyar in the 1990s when the two were taking turns with other volunteers camping out for about a month by pieces of a wooden bridge to be built across the Middle Fork.
Before construction got under way, they had to keep watch on the pieces to make sure hooligans didn’t steal or burn them. McGuire fondly remembers the fellowship through the long, rainy days and nights of the stakeout — and the dedication he grew to know in Boyar.
“He has kept his focus,” McGuire said. “Some people start to work in one place, then work in another. He has not spread himself too thin or burned out — he has specialized on the Middle Fork. It is in his DNA.
“A lot of people have been involved, some more than others, but he has been the glue that has kept it all together, the sun around which everyone has revolved.”
Boyar, 52, a Stanford grad in political science and former product manager for 24 years with a medical-software company, figures he has probably put 10 to 20 volunteer hours a week into the Middle Fork since 1991.
“It’s a place where I thought I could make a difference,” said Boyar, 52. “It was small enough I could get to know it and work hard at it. The more I came here, the more I learned, and after all those years it’s very personal.”
He said his love affair with the Middle Fork developed gradually. He started out hiking in the Olympics and North Cascades but wanted to try someplace closer to his home in Seattle, and the Middle Fork Valley is only about an hour from downtown.
“I heard about this valley,” Boyer said “It was pretty clear, though, the place was a bit of a mess. It was a forest valley next to an urban valley, and the wild ones had moved in. Yet it could have been a national park if it was anywhere else in the country.”
The first step in the rehab effort involved closing off the stub-end roads to the river to shut down illegal dumping. Then came the cleanup of trash, and a methodical transformation of the place, acre by acre. “The idea was, you would get the lawful use going, and that would drive out the wild ones and turn the Middle Fork around,” Boyar said.
After two summers spent putting up the Middle Fork bridge over the river, “we realized we needed to take the whole valley back,” he said. “We needed a much-broader effort.”
Working with the Mountains to Sound Greenway, Boyar and others put together a management plan for the area, including restrooms, a new campground and an improved access road.
The feds, the state Department of Natural Resources and King County all got involved, aided by a wide range of players, from local timber companies to backcountry horsemen, mountain bikers, whitewater rafters, hikers, native-plant aficionados, even the local rifle club.
Today the Mid Fork is the land of the station wagon, of little kids fishing with their families along the river.
It’s a place Boyar enjoys as much as anyone, with two kids of his own, ages 7 and 12.
“There aren’t many places where you can bike with the kids and do day hikes off the side roads,” said Boyar, who is spending his family’s summer vacation doing exactly that. He also enjoys bushwhacks way off the trails with his buddies, often by the light of the moon.
He savors the pleasures of knowing one place well: learning when the native bleeding hearts are in bloom; when the salmon berries are fat; where the hummingbirds are abuzz and the cottonwood buds have just broken, perfuming the air in spring. “It’s so gentle,” he said of this lowland forest. “And so quiet.”
“Every time I turn a corner, I am stunned all over again; there is nothing else like it,” Boyar said on a recent morning as he walked along the Middle Fork.
Wilderness designation, he said, would be a capstone for the more than 20 years of effort to protect and preserve this valley. “It’s stewardship, for the long term,” Boyar said. “And it’s recognition, too, of the national significance of this treasure.”
Lynda V. Mapes: 206-464-2736 or firstname.lastname@example.org