Path maker; Les Malmgren left an imprint on people and park
A memorial service for Arthur "Les" Malmgren was held April 30 at the Carkeek Park Environmental Learning Center. About 200 people came to pay respects to Malmgren, who, along with wife Nancy, were instrumental in restoring salmon habitat to Piper's Creek, the primary stream running through the park.
Malmgren was an electrical engineer by training, who worked for Boeing and Honeywell before founding his own medical equipment business. His wife, a long time park visitor and community activist, started the Carkeek Watershed Community Action Project in 1979, with $4500 in seed money coming from the Clean Water Act. The Malmgrens and a small group of volunteers started an education, outreach and habitat restoration project. Les Malmgren worked on the project part time until he retired in 1990, then becoming frequently active, along with other volunteers.
"Lot's of cockamamie things those guys busted their butts trying to get done," his wife Nancy said.
Malmgren said her husband often worked more than forty hours at the park, especially in the heavy rains when the most severe habitat destruction would occur. She said he would go to the park, accompanied by his dog Kvakic, and reinforce stream channels, pile sandbags and remove salmon barriers.
"He'd spend the night by the salmon box, because he didn't know when it would break," Nancy Malmgren said, referring to the imprint pond, nestled in the bushes near the bottom of the park.
Les Malmgren had a reputation as a resourceful fixer, coming up with solutions to unique problems encountered by the project. He designed the critical imprint pond, where fingerling salmon are programmed with the navigation that allows them to return to the creek that spawned them.
When silt from the stream choked the pond's water supply, Malmgren borrowed from principles he learned making kidney dialysis machines in his previous career, to remove silt from the pond's intake, without restricting the water.
In the late 1980s, about ten years after the watershed project began, several hundred chum salmon were seen returning to the creek where they were released. Returns in the hundreds are considered a significant number given the small size of the creek, and its proximity to a major metropolitan center.
The last time significant numbers of salmon were in the creek was the 1920s. Extensive logging, over-fishing and urban encroachment caused the population to collapse.
Nancy Malmgren said that though she founded the CWCAP, it was her husband who propelled her mission.
"His passion for fishing, for the water and his love of Puget Sound - that was absorbed by me," she said.
Les Malmgren was diagnosed with lung cancer last October, but stayed working at the Creek until March, when it became too difficult.
"His inability to get down there and move around ... it was a real vexation to him," his wife said.
Les Malmgren died on April 13, at his home, above Carkeek Park.
"Les always believed in stewardship of the earth - and being active in your own backyard," his wife said.
Contributions to the Les Malmgren Salmon Fund (CPAC) can be sent to 950 NW Carkeek Park Road, Seattle, WA 98177.