Both received a personal invitation from official sources. And the event was close to the heart of each.
But neither Graham Crawbuck or Reyna Ellis were quite sure of what to expect at the San Juan Island National Monument dedication ceremony last week in Anacortes.
So when Congressman Rick Larsen gave up some time allotted to him at the April 1 celebration, and then ushered Reyna to the podium, it caught the Spring Street International School student a bit by surprise. Although the teen had no idea that she would be asked to speak before a rather large audience, and with television cameras rolling as well, Reyna clearly remembers that the words came out easily.
“I just said what I felt,” Reyna recalls. “But at that moment it was all kind of a blur, then I handed the microphone to Graham.”
Reyna has since seen video of herself on Komo 4 News; here’s what she had to say:
“I would just like to thank everybody who encouraged President Obama,” she said. “You know, I feel so privileged that I get to live on this – on these beautiful islands, and that this land will be saved and preserved for my children.”
Graham conveyed a similar message when his turn came to address the crowd. Back home in Friday Harbor, he’s impressed by how many people from outside the San Juans attended the ceremony. He sees it as a testament to how much support there is for preserving the islands’ natural beauty and ecological health.
“It’s really bigger than just our county,” Graham said of the monument boundaries. “There are parts in Skagit County and in Whatcom County too.”
The two teens became the face of support for the national monument by the younger generation somewhat by chance. They were first interviewed by Komo News nearly a year ago after they and about 16 other Spring Street students attended a standing-room-only April meeting of the county council. At that meeting, in which Graham spoke out in favor of the designation, the council voted without dissent to send a letter urging the President to establish a national monument.
On March 25, President Obama did just that. Using executive authority afforded under the 1906 Antiquities Act, he created the San Juan Islands National Monument, designating 1,000 acres of land administered by the Bureau of Land Management as conservation lands. It was an alternative route to provide those lands, which consists of numerous parcels and an assortment of tiny islets, rocks and reefs, a greater, more permanent, level of protection from possible development. An earlier effort, led by Larsen and U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell, to have the lands designated as a National Conservation Area had met resistance in the House and was stalled.
While support for the monument has earned them each their “15 minutes of fame,” Reyna and Graham say their attachment to the BLM lands began long before last year. Reyna has visited the lighthouse on San Juan Island’s Cattle Point on numerous occasions and carries great affection for Lopez Island’s Watmough Bay as well.
“It’s really gorgeous,” she said of Watmough.
And Graham has helped conduct field surveys for the University of Washington Laboratories along the rocks off San Juan Island’s Kanaka Bay, a nutrient-rich habitat for various species of shorebirds, like killdeer and oystercatchers.
He’s discovered first-hand why the nearshore habitat of the San Juans is known as one of the most biologically diverse places on the planet. He believes that’s worth protecting, and preserving for future generations.
“I think it’s important to know that the government is listening to us,” he said. “I’m glad to see that because there are other environmental issues out there that are just as relevant.”