It’s been that long since the Legislature designated the old Weyerhaeuser log dump at the nexus of Woodard and Chapman bays one of the first such conservation areas in the state, a place where people play second fiddle to the needs of fish and wildlife.
One of the last major habitat-restoration projects in a series of several at the 800-acre site is well under way. Sometime late this winter, it will take imagination and old photographs to harken back to the era from the 1920s to 1984 when these Henderson Inlet bays and shoreline eight miles
north of Olympia bustled with cranes, piers, railroad trestles and millions of board-feet of logs cut from Weyerhaeuser forestland in south Thurston County, sent to Woodard Bay to be shaped into log rafts, then towed to a mill in Everett.
The railroad trestle that spanned Woodard Bay was removed in 2010. This fall, Nordland Construction of Port Townsend is removing 22,000 cubic yards of fill material that supported the railroad trestle. With the fill a thing of the past, the opening of the bay will be wider and afford better tidal circulation, said Michele Zukerberg, project manager for the state Department of Natural Resources.
The contractor has uncovered the occasional creosote piling in the fill material, but they don’t pose much of a removal problem, Nordland project manager Mark Johnson said.
“They’re coming out like bad teeth at the dentist’s office,” he said.
The five-member Nordland crew works mostly at low tide, so the hours of operation are uneven. The tides in Woodard Bay rise and fall as much as 14 feet each day.
To the north, across a narrow peninsula known as Weyer Point, another contractor — Quigg Brothers Inc., of Aberdeen — this fall removed about 500 tons of creosote-soaked material from the Chapman Bay pier, including 200 pilings. The pier’s north side and two trestle extensions to the west are gone. About half of the pier will remain because it provides summer roosting habitat for the largest known maternal bat colony in the state, home to some 2,000-3,000 little brown, big brown and Yuma myotis bats, not counting their young.
New roosting habitat was built for the bats on site last year, but they haven’t discovered or shown an interest in it yet.
All but 60 of the several hundred creosote pilings that once dotted the entrance to Chapman Bay are gone as well. The remaining pilings support purple martin nest boxes.
Over the past three years, some 2,140 tons of log-dump infrastructure have been removed from the site. It’s starting to look more and more like the natural area it was before the timber industry laid claim to it.
Once the Weyerhaeuser footprint is all but removed, DNR will turn its attention to making the shoreline more accessible to the public.
“This is a great place for people to get an emotional connection to Puget Sound,” said Naki Stevens, a DNR policy adviser who specializes in Puget Sound cleanup and protection.
DNR is at the front of the line for a $900,000 state grant to make the overall site a more welcoming place for people. Among the projects:
• Expanding the parking lot near Woodard Bay Road to handle 16 cars — about twice the existing capacity.
• Building a new entrance gate with a nearby bike shelter. Access to the site now is by foot only.
• Improving the kayak launch site near the entrance to the property.
• Contouring some of the remaining fill along the shorelines so people can walk on the beach.
• Adding park benches and an environmental learning shelter for students and other groups visiting the site.
However, the site is closed to the public at least until March while the truckloads of fill material continue to exit the property. And it could be a couple of years before all the improvements are complete.
The Woodard Bay Natural Resource Conservation Area is still a work in progress, But the changes at the site are dramatic. They’ll be quickly noticeable when the public returns to the popular nature oasis next spring.
Zukerberg has been managing the site for DNR for seven years. She looks forward to throwing out the welcome mat, yet realizes it will be a never-ending challenge balancing the needs of fish and wildlife with passive public recreation. She relishes the challenge.
“We’ve spent some $14 million on acquisition and restoration over the past 25 years,” she said. “It’s time here to really invite the public.”John Dodge: 360-754-5444 firstname.lastname@example.org