Exploring Renton’s hidden natural gems

Interpretive guides with Coast and Forest aim to promote appreciation of natural habitat in the area

Finding peace, connection and refuge in the parks and green spaces nestled in the urban sprawl is not uncommon for many Puget Sound residents. In Renton, a handful of trained interpretive nature guides are trying to introduce locals to the hidden natural gems in their own neighborhood.

Shell Michaluk-Bergan started the Coast and Forest collective with a handful of other interpretive guides whose jobs had been displaced by the pandemic.

During the pandemic, she said she was able to spend more time in Renton, where she lives, and she said she was able to build an appreciation for the city and its parks and natural areas.

Michaluk-Bergan said she realized she wanted to begin a company to provide guided nature programs for families and adults to learn new skills, gain new knowledge and develop a lasting appreciation for natural environments and habitats.

She began by reaching out to ten different interpretive guides that she had worked with before. All ten of them agreed to be a part of Coast and Forest.

Michaluk-Bergan said before she had got the team of guides back together it felt like their community of passionate nature enthusiasts was fractured.

“We lost our reason,” she said. “We lost our community.”

Michaluk-Bergan said the City of Renton was also very supportive of the idea. She said guided nature programming was something the city wanted to eventually provide.

Since January, Coast and Forest has been offering a variety of different nature programming in some of Renton’s parks since January.

Programs like nature journaling allow folks to be observant of their natural surrounding and to use both writing and art to reflect on their experience.

Two of Michaluk-Bergan’s favorite locations to introduce to people are Bird Island at Gene Coulon Park, a recently restored marine habitat for young salmon as well as a refuge for migrating birds, and the Black River Riparian Forest, a wetland created by the changing Black and Cedar Rivers that she says is a great spot to find herons.

“I am trying to bring attention to these spaces,” she said. “No one knows it’s there and it deserves appreciation.”

Michaluk-Bergan also has an impressive historical knowledge of both Lake Washington and the rivers that feed into it and how human activity and development have impacted these natural features and the species that call them home.

If you are interested in learning more about these programs, visit coastandforest.com.

The view of Lake Washington from Bird Island (photo credit: Cameron Sheppard)

The view of Lake Washington from Bird Island (photo credit: Cameron Sheppard)