Paddling Puget Sound in a S’Klallam canoe

suq.muk.55Each summer, northwest tribes paddle canoes to a gathering point in Washington or British Columbia, visiting other tribal communities along the way.

The Nisqually Tribe hosted this year’s journey, which drew more than 100 canoes to the south end of Puget Sound for a week-long celebration of native culture.

I had the honor of pulling with the Port Gamble S’Klallam Canoe Family as it traveled from North Kitsap to the final landing in Olympia.

The multimedia story posted below is my attempt to capture that experience, minus the sunburn. Click the title page to open the story full screen:
pulling to nisqually

 

Protection Island Adventures: Cannibal gulls, boat trouble & my Pulitzer-winning rescuer

Protection Island. Photo: Washington Dept. of Ecology.
Protection Island. Photo: Washington Dept. of Ecology.

I’ve wanted to visit Protection Island ever since I learned I wasn’t allowed to.

The nearly bare strip of land in the Strait of Juan de Fuca is closed to the public – and for good reason. The island hosts about 70 percent of the region’s nesting seabirds. Some of them (the tufted puffin, for example) are increasingly rare. The habitat is fragile and nests crowd the ground and dot the cliffs.

The island’s a popular destination for boat tours loaded with bird watchers. They can’t land and must stay 200 yards away from the shore.

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Biologist Jim Hayward braves angry gulls at the Protection Island nesting colony.

Protection became a national wildlife refuge in 1982. Its human population amounts to a caretaker and handful of scientists who spend a few months each year conducting mostly bird-related research.

I contacted a few of the scientists last year to see what they were up to. The work of Jim Hayward, a biologist with Andrews University in Michigan, stood out. He and his team found a correlation between rising sea temperature and cannibalism among the island’s vast gull nesting colony.

(You can read the resulting Sunday story about gull cannibalism here.)

It took a while (mostly because I was busy with other things), but I got permission from the U.S. Department of Fish and Wildlife to join Jim for a visit this summer.

On July 13, Jim and his wife, mathematician Shandelle Henson, picked me up in their motorboat at Cape George Marina near Port Townsend.

Jim has devoted much of his career to studying a bird most people either ignore or disdain.

“Gulls really have a rich repertoire of behavior,” he told me. “I could study this place for a hundred years and never run out of things to learn.”

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Jim Hayward and Shandelle Henson talk gull cannibals in their ‘field office’ on Protection Island.

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See Enchanted Valley Chalet while you still can

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Housemover Jeff Monroe talks with hikers from Minnesota outside the Enchanted Valley Chalet. Tristan Baurick/Kitsap Sun

Olympic National Park’s largest and best-known wilderness shelter may have only a few months to live.

The changing course of the Quinault River is again threatening to undercut the Enchanted Valley Chalet’s foundation. In late 2014, the house movers managed to push the chalet about 100 feet away from the riverbank.

The chalet in 2014. NPS photo.
The chalet in 2014. NPS photo.

The Quinault has since narrowed the gap. As of last week, the riverbank had crept to within 28 feet of the chalet. That means just over 70 feet of erosion occurred over the last two years (60 feet in 2014 and about 10 feet in 2015), mostly during winter and spring when the river runs high.

It’s hard not to expect the worse. Preservationists are again launching an effort to save the chalet, but time is limited and the bureaucratic hurdles are daunting.

I hiked up to the chalet last week to meet with the two guys trying their darnedest to (again) save the chalet. As I wrote in Sunday’s paper, housemover Jeff Monroe and longtime ONP volunteer Rod Farlee want to move the 64-ton structure about 450 feet to higher, more stable ground. They say they’re ready to do it now and could accomplish it with little or no cost to the park. Read the story here.

Rod Farlee checks underneath the chalet.
Rod Farlee checks underneath the chalet.
The river is closing in again.
The river is closing in again.

They’re more optimistic than I am that there’s enough time to save it. If the river runs like it did during the winter of ’14 – eating up 60 feet of riverbank – the chalet’s timbers will be tumbling down the river by this spring.

If you’ve had the chalet on your hiking bucket list, my advice is to get up there this summer or early fall. The trip there involves a long drive (from Kitsap), a few nights of backcountry camping and a roundtrip hike of about 30 miles.

Getting there

Head to the Graves Creek Trailhead at park’s southwest corner to start your journey. From Bremerton, the drive’s about 3.5 hours via Highway 3, going through Shelton toward Aberdeen.

Buy a wilderness camping pass ($5 per person per night) at the Quinault ranger station, 353 South Shore Road on Lake Quinault’s north end.

The Quinault River recently bit a few chunks out of the road leading to the trailhead, making what was once a 13.5-mile hike now about 15.5 miles. The added two miles are along a gravel road starting at a roadblock. Park your car along the road.

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This is why you’ll need to walk an extra two miles.
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Map at the Graves Creek Trailhead.

Hiking up

The hike’s long but not steep. You’re essentially following the river valley up a gradual incline.

I got a late start (thanks, Hood Canal bridge), so I hiked the first 4.5 miles to Pony Bridge before camping. This site has a scenic backcountry campground (little more than campfire circles and spots made flat by other campers) perched on rocky cliffs over the roaring river. A creek is the water source (it’s not easy getting down to the river), and the huckleberry bushes were loaded with ripe berries.

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Pony Bridge camping area

The only tough part on the trail is through a big landslide/tree blowdown between Pony Bridge and O’Neil Creek. The alternative routes, which take you under and over fallen old growth trees, is marked by cairns (stacked rocks) and plastic ribbon. I thought it was actually kind of fun spotting the markers and climbing and twisting my way through the busted up trees.

A problem freshly solved.
A problem freshly solved.

The trail was much worse a few weeks ago but a park trail crew whipped the path into fine shape, cutting away several huge blowdowns and installing a few sets of stairs.

I set up camp at Pyrites Creek (about 7 miles from Pony Bridge) and walked the last 3.5 miles without my pack. I recommend doing this since your feet will likely be sore at this point from carrying a heavy pack. Take your valuables (I can’t guarantee that your gear won’t get swiped), some water and a snack for an easy stroll to the chalet. This area is beautiful, with meadows and huge maples draped from head to toe in heavy moss.

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A look inside Manchester’s sea labs

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What’s a native Puget Sound oyster taste like? Sadly, most of us – even those born and raised here – have never tried one.

Olympia oysters were long ago harvested to the point of near-extinction. Taking their place was the bigger, faster-growing Pacific oyster, introduced from Japan in 1902.

A little-known research station in Manchester is working to restore not only the Olympia oyster’s rightful place in the sound, but a host of other sea creatures.

Screen Shot 2016-06-12 at 5.19.49 PMTucked between Manchester State Park and a Navy fuel station, the Manchester Research Station is an unassuming collection of white, mostly windowless buildings. Inside are a heck of a lot of tanks – tanks with big, thrashing chinook salmon, tanks with black cod swimming in frigid, green-tinted water, and tanks with pebble-sized Olympia oyster babies waiting to repopulate beaches around the sound.

This week, I tagged along on a tour the station’s manager, Barry Berejikian, gave to the folks who volunteer with Kitsap Beach Naturalists and Kitsap Stream Stewards.

The station is a collaborative place, with scientists from nonprofit groups, universities and federal agencies working alongside each other on various research projects. About two-thirds of the 30 people working there are with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

First up on the tour: big outdoor bathtubs loaded with red seaweed. Rather than a science experiment, this part of the station is more of a farm. A Seattle entrepreneur turns the seaweed into jells, moisturizers and soaps for a skin care line. We had a story about the business in 2011. Read it here.

“I’m actually 120 years old,” Berejikian joked. “I use the face cream every day.”

Gravel-sized Olympia oyster babies.
Gravel-sized Olympia oyster babies.

Across from the seaweed baths is the Olympia oyster hatchery. Run by Bainbridge Island-based Puget Sound Restoration Fund, the hatchery produces tens of thousands of oysters for 19 restoration sites around the sound.

PSRF’s Stuart Ryan has had a taste of the rare natives.

“They have a very distinct taste,” he said. “They’re brinier, slightly metallic – but in a good way, not a bad way.”

Brewing up oyster food.
Brewing up oyster food.
Young oysters attach themselves to old shells.
Young oysters attach themselves to old shells.
The old shells with new oyster starts are distributed around Puget Sound.
The old shells with new oyster starts are distributed around Puget Sound.

Alongside the oyster hatchery is a NOAA project that’s trying to figure out a way to raise black cod (sablefish) in commercial fish farms.

Unlike Atlantic salmon, which are grown commercially in net pens within view of the lab, the cod are native to the sound. Their numbers have declined due to habitat loss, fishing and other factors. NOAA believes the farmed fish could have a strong market in Asia.

NOAA’s rearing tanks are pitch black and very cold to replicate black cod’s natural environment. NOAA tints the water green to help the fish see their feed (apparently, young cod turn to cannibalism if they’re not fed well).

Female black cod are preferred. They grow faster with less food, making them more profitable than males.

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NOAA’s Matt Cook scoops and counts tiny black cod.
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Month-old black cod.

One of the largest buildings at the lab is one marked “Salmon Culture.” Built by the Bonneville Power Administration to mitigate the impact of dams on the Snake River, the building is full of tanks for several salmon-rearing projects.

A really interesting one iDSC_0218s tied to the Redfish Lake sockeye. This central Idaho run almost went extinct, with only 16 adults returning to the lake during the 1990s.

“These fish were very close to winking out,” said NOAA’s Des Maynard.

Thanks to Redfish Lake sockeye reared at the Manchester station, the run now tops 1,000 fish.

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Des Maynard of NOAA.

Also raised here were Elwha River pink salmon before the dam removal project.

“There was concern that the silt (held behind the dams) would smother their eggs when it came down,” Maynard said. “He raised some here as a safety net.”

Last on the tour was what Berejikian likes to call “the phony river.” It’s an artificial river,  with rocks and branches tossed in, where scientists run various experiments. Lately, they’ve used the river to test how much hatchery salmon compete with wild fish for food and territory.

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The “phony river.”

For more about the Manchester Research Station, head over here.

Name that mountaineer: OC needs help ID-ing photos from the George Martin Collection

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George Martin

George Martin was good at making history. Keeping a detailed account of that history? Not so much.

Martin, as I detailed in Sunday’s paper, was a pioneer in outdoor education. He founded Olympic College’s storied mountaineering program and helped establish Olympic Mountain Rescue. His work has been honored by governors, Supreme Court justices, interior secretaries and some of the biggest names in mountain climbing.

OC’s library recently cracked open the dusty archives known as the “George Martin Collection” with the idea of cataloging, scanning and digitizing the hundreds of photos, letters, articles and other documents it contains. Problem is, most of the photos lack any sort information. No dates, names or locations.

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They’re pretty cool photos, apparently showing the early days of the mountaineering class and OC’s once-booming outdoors program.

“We have books and books of photos but not many of them are well marked,” said OC Library’s Constance O’Shea.

OC’s librarians are trying to get more eyes on the photos in the hopes that someone will recognize a face, a trail or a peak.

So far, they’ve relied mostly on the library’s Facebook page to share photos and solicit information.

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The weekend’s low tide action

DSC_0087The great weather and midday low tides brought out the crowds on Sunday.

The tides on Sunday and today are the lowest daytime tides of the summer.

At the Foulweather Bluff Nature Preserve near Hansville, they had a near-record breaking crowd on the beach. One of the volunteers stationed there said 99 people were counted at noon. The most they’ve ever counted there was 150.

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I spotted plenty of live crabs – including some burly Dungeness crabs – in Foulweather’s tide pools. Also in abundance during the minus 3 tide: cockles, horse clams, tiny green shrimp, tube worms, anemone and lots of speedy little fish darting in and out of the thick eelgrass.

Reporter Rachel Seymour was on Bainbridge Island at the same time, covering a Bainbridge Beach Naturalists-led walk at Point White Pier. Check out her story, photos and video here.

For more shots from Foulweather, keep scrolling down.

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Weekend’s low tides offer rare glimpse of undersea world

Tide pool exploration at Lions Park in Bremerton in 2008. Larry Steagall/Kitsap Sun
Tide pool exploration at Lions Park in Bremerton in 2008. Larry Steagall/Kitsap Sun

Hot weather and extremely low mid-day tides will make this weekend an ideal time to get out and see a side of Puget Sound that’s usually hidden under the waves.

Sunday -3 tide at noon is expected to be the lowest daytime tide of the summer.

“Getting a minus 3 or 3.5 tide during the day, and on a day that’s going to have good weather is pretty unusual,” said Jeff Adams, a Bremerton-based marine ecologist with Washington Sea Grant.

Adams said you can expect to see sea stars, anemone, chiton, big rock crabs, maybe even an “ugly and alien” hairy helmet crab or geoduck necks sticking out of the sand.

Check tidepools for stranded octopus and the amazing midshipman fish, which breathes air when out of water, glows with luminescence when courting and is known to hum (yes, hum) so loud houseboaters have a hard time sleeping.

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Kitsap gets a head start on the crabbing season

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The waters west and south of the Kitsap Peninsula are opening for crabbing about a month earlier than the rest of Puget Sound.

The state Department of Fish and Wildlife has OK’d the start of recreational crabbing in Hood Canal and the South Sound for next month.

“We’ll send out a schedule for crab fisheries throughout Puget Sound in the coming weeks, but there was no good reason to hold off on these areas,” said Rich Childers, Fish and Wildlife’s shellfish policy manager. “Sport crabbers in these areas have fallen short of reaching their catch quota in recent years, so we can afford to give them more time to fish during the upcoming season.”

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Glacier-trapped camera finds owner thanks to high-climbing dentist and Port Orchard Facebookers

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Lynn Lippert

Three years ago, Lynn Lippert was near the top of Mt. Olympus taking one of those epic shots you can’t wait to show your friends.

As her camera clicked at the edge of an icy crevasse, Lynn lost her balance. She caught herself, but her camera wasn’t so lucky. It dove deep into the crevasse.

“Even if we could have seen it … it would have been impossible to reach,” she said.

Miraculously, Lynn will get to show off those photos off after all. That’s thanks to a bit of global warming, a high-climbing Port Orchard dentist and a Port Orchard Facebook group frequented by a man with “a very particular set of skills.”

Chris Mueller
Chris Mueller

The camera’s happenstance rescue mission began when Chris Mueller, who has a dental practice on Bay Street, was recently trekking up the same route as Lynn.

The glacier had apparently receded, as it has been doing at a fast rate in recent years, allowing a glimpse of Lynn’s long-lost camera. Chris managed to pull out the “ice-encrusted” thing. Inside, he found lots of sunny photos of smiling people hiking, biking and climbing. It was unclear who owned it, but Chris tried “a total shot in the dark”: he posted a few of the photos on the Port Orchard Facebook group’s page.

Here’s his post:

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The page is the kind of place people share (a lot of) backyard bird photos, ask for plumber recommendations, sell old hedge trimmers, or poll Port Orchard residents about whether or not Fred Meyer sells bulk flax seed (rather than, you know, actually calling Fred Meyer). It’s not the kind of place you go looking for mountain climbers who might be missing cameras. But what the group does have going for it is a lot of active members (12,651 at last count).

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Scenes from opening day of the shrimping season

DSC_0504Despite a late start to the season, opening day of Puget Sound shrimping still drew crowds in Hood Canal.

Low tides pushed the opener about a week, forcing many shrimpers to change vacation days, motel reservations and other plans.DSC_0476Quilcene and Dabob bays were as busy as ever, though, with lines to get boats in and out before and after Saturday’s four-hour shrimping period.

Three more days remain for Hood Canal shrimping: tomorrow (Wednesday), May 28 and May 30. For dates and times in other marina areas, head over to the state Dept. of Fish & Wildlife’s shrimping page.

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Photos: Dabob Bay on Hood Canal. Tristan Baurick/Kitsap Sun