Refuge project wins federal aid

All the money is secured to complete a major estuary restoration project at the Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge, refuge officials announced Monday.

The project to return tidal influence to 762 acres of diked refuge property on the Nisqually River Delta received $3.4 million from $280 million of federal economic stimulus money earmarked for U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service projects across the country, refuge manager Jean Takekawa said.

That money, combined with $1.45 million in the refuge’s 2009 budget, completes the funding package for the $12 million, three-year effort that will bring Puget Sound tidewaters back into the refuge for the first time in 100 years.

“This is a huge step forward,” Takekawa said. “We are fortunate that we had a compelling project ready for construction.”

Refuge officials still are looking some $3 million to pay for monitoring of the recovered tidelands for at least three years and possibly longer, Takekawa said.

In early May, crews will begin the second phase of the estuary restoration work designed to create habitat for imperiled chinook salmon, other marine life and shorebirds. Work includes removal of the perimeter dike that holds back the tides and completion of the new interior dike that was started on the 3,000-acre refuge last year.

In 2010, the final phase of construction will include building a boardwalk so visitors can walk out over a portion of the reclaimed tidelands.

Lost in the project is the 5.5-mile looped trail along the perimeter dike, which has been a popular attraction of birdwatchers and other recreationists since it was created in 1974.

Some 1,500 people attended a farewell hike on the trail April 18. The trail is scheduled to be open until Sunday and then close for good.

“There’s plenty of people who are disappointed to lose the trail,” Takekawa said. “But there’s plenty of people who support estuary restoration, too.”

The heavily-used Twin Barns Loop Trail that stretches about a mile beyond the refuge headquarters along the Nisqually River will remain open.

About 180,000 people visited the refuge last year. To keep track of trail and refuge conditions, visit www.fws.gov/nisqually or call 360-753-9467.

The refuge is 8 miles northeast of Olympia off Interstate 5 at Exit 114.

John Dodge covers the environment and energy for The Olympian. He can be reached at 360-754-5444 or jdodge@theolympian.com.