Tidal waters again flow in and out of a former salt marsh after crews breached a dike at the mouth of the Union River near Belfair. A joint project by the state Department of Fish and Wildlife and Hood Canal Salmon Enhancement Group, the goal is to reclaim 32 acres of marsh.
The dike was breached in two spots Aug. 19.
The project was funded by a $1.8 million coastal wetlands grant from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and a $300,000 matching grant from the state Recreation and Conservation Office’s Salmon Recovery Funding Board.
“It went really well, and the waters are flowing back and forth,” said Doris Small, a fish habitat biologist with the Department of Fish and Wildlife. “So far, I’m very happy with how it’s going. We had some tides with extreme lows and some highs. It was able to inundate the area we hope to return to salt marsh.”
Small said the project will be part of the effort to restore summer chum and chinook runs in Hood Canal.
The marshland provides important rearing grounds for juvenile salmon as well as other fish and wildlife species. Juvenile chum and chinook rely on estuaries for food, refuge from predators and to being the gradual transition from freshwater to saltwater habitat.
“The estuary restoration is one of many habitat protection and restoration projects that benefit fish, wildlife and people in Lynch Cove,” Small said. “Restoring tidelands has positive effects on entire ecosystems. Salt marsh plants and grasses grow fast, decompose, and drive the whole food chain.”
Two walking bridges spanning the breached areas of the dike will be constructed and become part of the Thelar Trail system. The bridges are set for completion some time this fall.
A setback dike with a new section of trail was constructed on the department-owned land prior to the breaching to allow the public to continue to use the trail system.
The popular trail attracts 200,000 visitors each year, according to the adjoining Theler Wetlands (theler.org). The portion of the trail system that spans the dike has been temporarily detoured for safety during the construction process, but will reopen upon completion of the bridges.