On a recent Saturday, Bruce Higgins organized a
complex dive at the 27-acre Edmonds Underwater
Park at Brackett’s Landing North, where he
volunteers to build and maintain the underwater
trail system. In 2007, the park’s trail system, which consists
of a network of 2.5 miles of trails, was named for Higgins.
Saturday’s dive consisted of Higgins and his team of
volunteers relocating industrial tires from nearby Marina
Beach to the park’s underwater trails. The tires, which Higgins
estimates have been submerged at Marina Beach since the
fuel pier removal in 2009, posed a threat to marine life.
While that may sound like enough volunteer work for
one weekend, Higgins planned to return the next day. He
has spent most Saturday and Sunday mornings building and
maintaining the trails since 1977. He loves spending time
underwater and is committed to making it possible for other
divers to enjoy the park as well.
“To me, diving is gobs of fun,” Higgins said. “You can
watch a fish land in your hand. You can feel weightless, like
Superman scaling tall buildings in a single bound. You can
pretend you’re an astronaut till the cows come home.”
Higgins who has a degree in oceanography and studied
ocean engineering at OSU, focusing on off-shore docks,
breakwaters, and mooring systems, became a certified scuba
diver in 1970. His career path reflects a fascination with
marine environments, including teaching oceanography and
electronics at Shoreline Community College, consulting on
oceanographic and ionospheric projects, manufacturing water
purification systems, and working for the NOAA in Alaska.
But the trail system that bears his name is his passion project.
Thanks to his vision for the park, the network of trails and
submerged features are a marine playground that has become
the state’s most popular underwater park.
When the underwater park was first started, its no-harvest
designation made it unusual for its time. The park offered
Edmonds’ visitors and residents the opportunity to connect
with the waterfront and an environment teeming with marine
life. Higgins calls it a “spectacular place” and is an expert on
its history, recalling with ease the mills, boat manufacturers,
and other industries that once populated the waterfront.
“You feel weightless, like Superman scaling tall buildings in a single bound”
One of the park’s most popular features is the Jungle Gym,
which Higgins constructed in the 1980s. Higgins and his
team used plastic milk crates to store their tools underwater
at the dive site overnight. When they returned the next day,
they discovered the milk crates were crawling with shrimp.
This epiphany prompted the team to collected damaged milk
crates, and they placed them on the Northern Lights Trail,
creating a thriving habitat for shrimp.
“My model is more like an arboretum with a lot of
variety. A little bit of this; a little bit of that. Stuff that
works well, we’ll do more of. If it’s not working well, we’ll
repurpose it,” Higgins explained.
He runs his team of loosely organized volunteers in much
the same way. Rather than form a schedule or administrate,
he works with whoever happens to show up on any given
Saturday or Sunday. That’s not to say, though, that the
team isn’t close-knit. They hold an annual dive and picnic
gathering, which this year also served as a going away party
for one of the departing volunteers.
Higgins encourages everyone to try exploring the water.
“The easy half step is to just go snorkeling. You don’t have to
go through any special training. You could just go rent a wet
suit and snorkel and putz around and take a look.”
It’s a view that has kept Higgins coming back weekend
after weekend, volunteering his time for almost forty years.