Margaret McGillivray just beams as she remembers the Sunday gatherings of family and neighbors that she hosted for decades. The cozy McGillivray farmhouse near Granite Falls has been the site of countless holiday get-togethers and many are the times she recalls pulling mattresses out from under beds for overnight guests.
Margaret has lived on this 30-acre farm on Robe Menzel Road since her parents bought it in 1948. The farm was first a dairy, then a strawberry farm and finally a hay farm. Margaret and her late husband, Don also sold beef, pork, chicken and eggs. She even sold eggs door-to-door in town for many years, and later directly off the farm. Even the garden plot at the hay field’s edge, she tells us, has been in the same spot since the 1920’s. The McGillivray’s raised three sons on their farm. One of them, Ron, lives with Margaret now and takes care of the farm.
Life on the Little Farm
After her parents bought the farm, they added dairy cows. Margaret and her mother, Rosa Margaret Harvey, did all the milking. They milked 15 cows by hand as electricity didn’t reach them until the 1950’s. When the PUD eventually brought power to their road, the family had to cut their own poles, clear the right-of-way, and dig the post-holes. PUD set the posts. At first, they could only afford 110 volt power, but were later able to save up for 220 volt power.
When Darigold, the cooperative that bought their milk, would only accept Grade A milk, the family had to decide whether to continue the dairy or not. The Harvey’s chose to give up their cows rather than invest in the stainless steel pipelines and tank that were required. Margaret’s father purchased equipment and plowed the fields for strawberries, which she admits, were a lot more work than the dairy.
After Margaret and Don married in 1950, he held various jobs and in the early 1960’s, started working for the State Department of Highways. Margaret was no stranger to work either. When her children were young, she sold beef, pork, eggs, and replacement heifers, besides having her egg-selling route. It’s apparent that Margaret has always been deeply involved with all aspects of the farm. She keeps meticulous notes and has names, phone numbers, dates … you name it!
Change is Not Always Good
In the 1970’s things changed. A new neighbor moved in next door and started mining peat in the wetlands along Carpenter Creek (which also ran through the McGillivray’s property). The neighbor dug many ponds and had high expectations for his wetland. He approached Don and Margaret about building a road that they could both use to access back portions of their properties, on the other side of the creek.
“It was a poor idea, wasn’t implemented well, and I think Dad regretted it,” said son Ron. After that, there were constant ownership changes, about every five years, until eventually the neighboring property became a gravel operation.
One corner of McGillivray’s land – good hay ground – kept flooding every year. Over time, a mysterious oil sheen developed on the creek’s surface, asphalt was dumped on the neighbor’s property, two culverts under the road became plugged (which caused Carpenter Creek to back up and flood) and the fish disappeared. The past two years, the family has not been able to harvest any hay in this back corner of the farm.
Margaret has detailed records of the scores of groups that have come to view the road, the flooding, and lack of fish in this part of Carpenter Creek. Many local organizations and state and federal entities came and looked, and said yes, something should be done. They walked the site, learned the history, took notes, and told Margaret and Don, “we’ll be in touch”.
The McGillivray’s never heard back from any of them. Hearings were held concerning the gravel pit operation and expansion, and the McGillivray’s requested that several agencies testify on their behalf. No one ever did. Don was frustrated. He knew, having worked for the state road department, that there were permits and rules that were supposed to be followed when land was developed, but it was apparent that they were overlooked repeatedly in this situation.
Help Finally Arrives
Things changed for the better in 2012. Alan Shank, a Snohomish Conservation District farm planner, visited the family to discuss their interest in crop options and estate planning. Alan had a sympathetic ear and listened to their story. Amiable, thoughtful and persistent, Alan won the McGillivray’s over and eventually brought his co-worker, Cindy Flint, out to investigate.
Cindy works for the District’s Habitat Restoration program. As a former Snohomish County Watershed Steward, she knew who to contact, and how quickly they needed to act. Margaret recalled, “There would sometimes be three groups at once that would come and walk out to the creek. No one followed through. Cindy was the first one to really stick with it.”
Although Alan and Cindy could help with permits and designs, they had no construction funding to offer the family. Not to worry, Ron agreed to cover the expenses if they could remove the two problem culverts and help repair the decades-old damage. Ron says, “It was a ‘win-win’ for everyone”.
As it happened, the land (a former gravel pit) next door was for sale and Cindy seized the opportunity to approach the owner before it changed hands again. Since the road was on that property, the neighbor needed to agree to the project.
Carpenter Creek and two tributary streams run through the McGillivray property and flow into the West Fork of Woods Creek. Carpenter Creek is home to coho and pink salmon, steelhead, and bull trout. Margaret remembers when coho and pink salmon used to spawn here, but salmon have not been able to migrate upstream since the access road to the neighboring property was built across the creek. Two old culverts under the road directed some flow downstream, but the culverts were too small, quickly filled with sediment, and caused water to back up on the McGillivray Farm.
A Simple Solution
Snohomish Conservation District and the McGillivray’s envisioned a simple solution to both their flooding field and the fish barrier – remove the road so Carpenter Creek could flow naturally again. The road was no longer needed by the gravel pit owner, who also agreed to sign all necessary permits for the project.
The Conservation District engineered the road and culvert removal, acquired a permit from the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, oversaw the construction, and provided erosion control materials.
One of the old 18-inch wide culverts buried under the road was removed, along with approximately 45 cubic yards of road fill, opening up a channel for the creek to flow through. Now approximately one-half mile of previously blocked upstream habitat is available for salmon to spawn in once again.
The McGillivray family seems quite happy with the help they received from the Conservation District. Cindy hopes to go back in the spring to plant trees and shrubs that will not only shade the newly opened section of creek, but also provide food for fish, habitat for wildlife, and help soak up even more water.
Ron is happy too. He remembers eagles and hawks frequenting the farm when fish were in the stream, and how they eventually quit coming when the fish disappeared. Now, he and his mom hope to soon see more birds and some of the other wildlife that were so prevalent – cougar, bobcat, deer and more. “A good healthy creek is fun for everyone”, Ron says.