Nisqually Reach purchase protects salmon habitat

An expansion of Jacobs Point Park on Anderson Island recently made the Nisqually Reach Aquatic Reserve the largest protected marine park in the South Puget Sound.
An expansion of Jacobs Point Park on Anderson Island recently made the Nisqually Reach Aquatic Reserve the largest protected marine park in the South Puget Sound. Courtesy

Some of the last undeveloped shoreline along Puget Sound has been added to the Nisqually Reach Aquatic Reserve.

The acquisition of 17.6 acres expands Jacobs Point Park on Anderson Island to 100 acres, making the Nisqually reserve the largest protected marine park in South Puget Sound.

“Undeveloped shoreline anywhere in Puget Sound is rare,” Joe Kane, executive director of the Nisqually Land Trust, said.

The Nisqually Reach Aquatic Reserve extends from the Nisqually River Delta across Nisqually Reach. It includes all state-owned aquatic lands in these areas, plus state-owned bedlands and beaches surrounding Anderson, Ketron and Eagle islands to the shores of McNeil Island.

The new acreage will be accessible to the public via a trail network. Jacobs Point provides public access to more than 1,600 feet of shoreline.

The expansion of the aquatic reserve should be a boon to juvenile salmon, which swim from the Nisqually River across from Anderson Island and use the shoreline for feeding and protection before they head farther into Puget Sound and the Pacific, Kane said.

“At times, the Nisqually River plume actually connects across the reach,” said Christopher Ellings, director of salmon recovery for the Nisqually tribe.

The juvenile salmon will be transported by the plume, Ellings said.

“The Chinook are about 75 to 100 millimeters long, and the pink and chum are only about 40 millimeters long,” Ellings said. “If you’re walking in the spring, you could see swarms of chum and pink — swarms of little silvery fish — swimming around right in the shallows, feeding on small crustaceans and insects.”

The Nisqually Land Trust partnered with the nonprofit land conservation and urban design organization Forterra and the Anderson Island Park District for the acquisition, joining the project when grant funding fell short. The trust provided $70,000 of the $258,000 purchase price. The core funding was provided through Pierce County Conservation Futures; the Aquatic Lands Enhancement Account, administered by the state’s Recreation and Conservation Office; and a private funder, said Kane.

Much farther upstream, the land trust alone has acquired parcels on the main stem of the Nisqually River in the Whitewater Reach, near Yelm.

The Whitewater Reach is rated the highest priority in the Nisqually Chinook Salmon and Steelhead recovery plans, Kane said.

The land trust properties are not in Yelm city limits, said J.W. Foster, mayor of Yelm and board president of the Nisqually Land Trust.

“The land trust now owns most of the shoreline on the Yelm side of the river from Nisqually Pines all the way to the McKenna bridge,” Foster said. In all, Foster said, about 75 percent of the Nisqually River up to Alder Dam is in permanent protection, through the land trust, the Nisqually tribe and Joint Base Lewis McChord.

The Yelm-area acquisitions help move forward plans to extend the Yelm-Tenino Trail to the river. The city owns a vacated rail line that would be relatively easy to convert, Foster said.

“We need to make more public access. We had an opportunity to eventually create a trail system that would parallel the river and give safe, appropriate access to the river for education and recreation,” Foster said.

“The city’s portion is simple, because we have the rail bed already,” Foster said. “It will be more tricky along the river.”

The next step is to apply for federal funding to pay for the planning. When the plan is in place, the city and the land trust can raise money to build the trail, Foster said.

“The goal is within two years to have the federal plan in place,” Foster said.

Jerre Redecker: 360-754-5422, @jredecker