Outdoors

Hike of the Week for July 4

Mary E. Theler Wetlands Trails

HIKE DESCRIPTION: The series of short, flat trails at Belfair’s Mary E. Theler Wetlands is an ideal place for an easy and scenic family stroll, especially for those who enjoy spending time looking at a variety of flora and fauna. The preserve is a popular destination for bird watchers and its Native Plant Demonstration Gardens have “120 identified native trees, shrubs, ground covers and ornamental grasses,” according to the wetland’s website.

Even though hikers never get farther than a mile from downtown Belfair, they’ll feel as if they are much farther from the two highways that border much of the wetland. The short nature walks include interpretive signage.

Four flat trails, maintained by volunteers, explore the area where the Union River meets Hood Canal. The longest of the trails is the 1.5-mile (each way) Union River Estuary Trail.

DIRECTIONS: Follow state Route 3 to Belfair and the trailhead at the Theler Community Center, 22871 NE State Route 3, Belfair.

DIFFICULTY RATING: 1 (1 is easiest, 5 the most difficult).

MILES ROUND TRIP: 4.

ELEVATION: Minimal.

BEST TIME OF THE YEAR: Year-round.

MAP: Available at the trailhead and online at thelertrails.org.

PASS: None.

ALSO: Trails are wheelchair-accessible and open dawn to dusk. The area receives more than 200,000 visitors a year. The land was donated by longtime Belfair resident Sam Theler. The trails pass through a fish and wildlife sanctuary. Hanging in the breezeway between the wetlands exhibit center and the classroom is the skeleton of a gray whale that died after beaching itself in Belfair in 1999. According to the wetlands website, volunteers buried the whale then dug it up and cleaned the bones several years later. The display was completed in 2004. Pets are not permitted on the trails. There are no traditional geocaches in the wetlands but there is one EarthCache. An EarthCache requires answering questions about the location. For more information, visit earthcache.org or geocaching.com.

INFO: thelertrails.org.

Craig Hill, craig.hill@thenewstribune.com

@AdventureGuys

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