NASELLE - Celebrating the success of a restored salmon run at a creek near the headquarters of Willapa National Wildlife Refuge, students from the University of Washington's Public Art Program will participate in a competition to design an interpretative trail to highlight the unique habitat of the area and the accomplishment of reclaiming a watershed for salmon.

As part of an eight-week studio practicum, student teams will submit designs for an art inspired public access guided walk to communicate the remarkable achievement of Refuge staff and volunteers in restoring long-lost salmon runs to Willapa Bay.

The interpretative trail will cap a four year restoration project that this year yielded a record return of chum salmon to the creek.

"Over 300 salmon returned this fall, up from a dozen last year," said Art Shine, Recreation Planner at the Willapa Refuge. Shine continued, "This design project will further help protect the salmon here as well as demonstrate that small creek projects can be relatively easily restored to productive conditions for wildlife." The trail will also recognize the Centennial Year of the National Wildlife Refuge System, which celebrates 100 years of conservation progress in 2003.

Shine and other Refuge staff introduced the University Washington design team to the site during a recent visit to the restored creek. Nearly two dozen students and faculty experienced first-hand the sights and smells of the surrounding environment and walked through the area planned for the trail. Iain Robertson, Chair of the Department of Landscape Architecture at the university, encouraged the students to "convey the message through art." John Ivie, Visual Information Specialist with the Fish and Wildlife Service, coached the students to "create trail markers and objects of attention that 'speak' to visitors, versus a mere passive sign."

Fellow educator Jim Nicholls, from the Department of Architecture, stated that "This [design competition at Willapa] is an ideal project for this program. Here we can bring students who have mostly dealt with art as a medium of internal expression to experience the motivation and inspiration of an external, natural environment."

Support staff from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service note the distinction of this design project. "This is the first time an interpretative trail using artwork has been designed for the Refuge system," stated Ivie. Kelly Donahue, a Landscape Architect also from Fish and Wildlife, adds that "constructing public use areas within the Refuge system presents new and different challenges than designing a trail for a general park. Our priority here is first and foremost to protect the wildlife."

The University's Public Art department is no stranger to Southwest Washington and the Willapa area. In the spring of 2001, a commemorative monument to Thomas Jefferson was designed for nearby Fort Canby State Park in conjunction with the Lewis and Clark Bicentennial. Thirteen University of Washington Public Art students participated with eight submitted design proposals.

The student designs for the Willapa interpretive trail are expected to be complete and available for public viewing in early March. Details will be announced by the Public Arts program and management staff at the Willapa Refuge.

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