Piece of area maritime history in peril

South Sound is in jeopardy of losing a piece of maritime history: the old Luhr Beach fishing pier on the Nisqually Delta near the mouth of McAllister Creek.

The state Department and Fish and Wildlife announced July 13 that it had closed the 120-foot-long pier after an inspection documented rotting beams, deteriorated concrete and swaying in the aging structure.

In what qualifies as a sad irony, July 13 is the day on which Beachcrest resident William Luhr Jr., 76, died after spending most of his life on and around Luhr Beach.

Throughout the mid-20th century, the pier was part of a boat-rental business owned by William Luhr Sr., who bought the beach property from his father, John, in the late 1930s, and opened a small resort with five cabins and wooden boats for rent.

The boats were popular with salmon anglers who would navigate the tideflats – except at low tide – over to some fairly plentiful salmon-fishing grounds off the southwest side of Anderson Island, about two miles away.

My father began renting boats at Luhr Beach for South Sound salmon-fishing trips in 1955 and started bringing me along a few years later. I caught my first salmon from a boat rented from the Luhrs and have vivid memories of the elevator launch at the end of the pier, which was still a sturdy structure 50 years ago.

The state bought the resort from the Luhr family and took over management of the property in 1968.

Prior to its closure for public-safety reasons, the pier had been a popular access point in recent years for anglers, crabbers, bird watchers and others. It sits right next to the Nisqually Reach Nature Center, which is also the old Luhr family home. The pier also was used for some of the nature center’s children’s-education activities. The fate of the pier is unclear. WDFW plans a more extensive inspection of the pier before deciding what to do with it. Obviously, it’s either going to be repaired or it will go the way of a lot of other old piers, docks and wharves that once poked out from the Puget Sound shoreline, but have been demolished over time.

“We would like to see it saved,” said Patricia Luhr, who was busy making arrangements Friday for a memorial service for her husband that night on the beach he so much loved.

Boating from Luhr Beach always was – and continues to be – an adventure controlled by tides that can fluctuate at much as 14 feet from high to low. At low tide, the Nisqually mudflats are exposed, and it’s next to impossible to get back from Anderson Island to Luhr Beach.

“I’ve been grounded out there a few times,” recalled Frank Haw, a longtime fisheries biologist and angler of considerable ability. He also remembers rescuing two duck hunters lost in the fog and suffering from hypothermia on the Nisqually mud flats on a bitter cold winter day 30 years ago.

While the elevator launch on the pier was already out of commission by the time the state bought the place, they did construct a public boat ramp on the property.

Over the years and long after the Luhr family moved off the property, Luhr was always receiving calls from boaters, asking whether the tide was in, out or somewhere in between, Patricia Luhr said.

“The tide book was my husband’s bible,” she said. “I’m looking at one, sitting here on his desk.”


Sticking with the maritime theme, hats off to the Olympia Outboard Club and Big Brothers/Big Sisters of South Washington for teaming up to get 20 children and their mentors out on the water for a fun-filled day of activities July 31.

In what’s dubbed the Big Little Cruise, the little brothers and sisters ages 8 to 18 will climb on board a fleet of 10 boats skippered by members of the 60-year-old outboard club and motor from Swantown Marina over to the club’s clubhouse on Steamboat Island for a day of food, games and maritime activities.

Working with nearly 600 children in Thurston, Mason and Lewis counties, Big Brothers/Big Sisters plans at least one outdoor outing each month for participants and their mentors, program manager Amanda Froemsdorf said. But for some of the kids, it will be their first time on the waters of Puget Sound, she said.

“For some kids, it will be an experience they’ll never forget,” Froemsdorf said.

Club member Pat Mount said his son, Andy, planted the seed for the Big Little Cruise, during a family boating trip in South Sound.

“You know, there’s a lot of kids living near the sound that have never even been on the water,” Andy Mount said. “We need to do something about that.”

Pat Mount presented the idea of an organized boating outing to his club board, which embraced it with enthusiasm, as did the Big Brothers/Big Sisters organization.

There should be a lot of smiling faces on the water next Saturday, thanks to an inspirational challenge delivered from a son to a father.

John Dodge: 360-754-5444