Washington’s Recreation and Conservation Office turns 50

A volunteer tree planter walks thought the Port Gamble Shoreline Block property in April. By Meegan Reid/Kitsap Sun
A volunteer tree planter walks thought the Port Gamble Shoreline Block property in April. By Meegan Reid/Kitsap Sun

Never heard of the Washington State Recreation and Conservation Office? Well, chances are you’ve hiked a trail, played in a park or enjoyed a public beach made possible with RCO funding.


The RCO celebrated its 50th year with little fanfare today.

Since 1964, the RCO has grown from a small agency administering three grant programs to one that handles 15 grant programs, five boards and offices, and the fourth-largest capital budget of any state agency.

Its mandate is fairly broad: create parks, trails and other recreation areas, conserve wildlife habitat and working farms, and bring salmon back from the brink of extinction.

RCO has invested nearly $2 billion in about 8,500 projects around the state.

This year, about $21 million went to Kitsap County to fund more than 30 projects.

Here are a few:

  • The purchase of the Port Gamble Shoreline Block property
  • Point No Point wetland restoration
  • New playground at Bremerton’s Evergreen Park
  • Harper Pier reconstruction
  • Carpenter Creek estuary acquisition
  • Expansion of Gazzam Lake Preserve on Bainbridge

“This kind of investment in Washington’s quality of life is really unique in the nation,” RCO director Kaleen Cottingham said in a statement. “Most other states don’t have a comparable state agency. By consolidating these recreation, conservation and restoration grant programs in one agency, Washington is able to run fair, non-political evaluation processes that ensures the best projects are funded.”

For more about the RCO, head to their website, rco.wa.gov.


Photos from my season of kayak commuting

With the days getting shorter and the weather windier and wetter, it’s time to call a close to this season’s kayak commute.

I started commuting from south Bainbridge Island to the Kitsap Sun’s HQ in Bremerton last summer, and have loved every minute of it. It’s been a great way to see, feel and smell Puget Sound. It’s also much cheaper than driving and I get a good dose of exercise to boot.

I often snap photos along the way and post them to Twitter (hashtag #kayakcommute). See a few of this season’s highlights in the gallery above.

Anderson Point Park could reopen in December


The Kitsap County Parks Department is predicting that work to reopen Anderson Point Park will finish up on Dec. 3.

That’s not necessarily the day the public will be welcomed back into the South Kitsap park, but it does mark the end of a $170,000 project to stabilize Anderson Point’s hillside. The park was closed in 2010 when it appeared that the hillside was dangerously unstable. The trail to the park’s long, sandy beach snakes down the hillside, and portions of it had crumbled away during winter storms.

A report commissioned by the department early this year showed that poor ditch maintenance led to the park’s landslide hazards.


Kingston-based Sealevel Bulkhead Builders is scheduled to begin moving equipment to the site on Oct. 28. Work on drainage improvements will start two days later. Construction of a retaining wall will take about a month, ending around Thanksgiving. Cleanup will happen during the first days of December, according to the project’s schedule.

Not yet worked out is how the parks department and nearby residents will share Millihanna Road, which serves as the only road access to the park. The handful of households on Millihanna threatened legal action against the department if the park is reopened.

See the full schedule below.

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VIDEO: Trailer for Elwha River documentary

A documentary film about the removal of the Elwha River’s dams will grace Bainbridge Island’s biggest screen on Nov. 1 and 2.

According to its filmmakers, “Return of the River” is a “story of hope and possibility amid grim environmental news. It is a film for our time: an invitation to consider crazy ideas that could transform the world for the better. It features an unlikely success story for environmental and cultural restoration.”

You can watch the trailer above.

Tim McNulty, author of “Olympic National Park: A Natural History,” praised the film as “visually dazzling, lyrically evocative, and fluid as mountain snowmelt.”

The $10 tickets will help environmental science programs at NatureBridge’s Olympic National Park campus.

Both showings start at 5:15 p.m. at Bainbridge Cinemas, 403 Madison Ave.

Get your tickets at https://elwhamovie.eventbrite.com or at the door starting an hour before showtime.

State boosts fall trout levels in Washington lakes


The state Dept. of Fish & Wildlife is releasing what they’re calling a “torrent” of trout in Western Washington lakes this fall.

Nearly four times more catchable-sized trout will be poured into lakes than last fall, setting the stage for some phenomenal fishing through the holiday season.

The only local lake to get some of the 340,000 fish is Kitsap Lake, which was scheduled for 4,760 trout on Oct. 1. That’s about equal to the lake’s allotment last fall.

Some of the nearby lakes getting a trout infusion include Jefferson County’s Gibbs Lake (370 fish), Teal Lake (155), Leland Lake (2,975), and Mason County’s Island Lake (2,180), Lost Lake (2,420), Nahwatzel Lake (2,500) and Spencer Lake (4,400).

Fish & Wildlife has a higher number of fish to stock because of a legal settlement with the Wild Fish Conservancy. The settlement prevented the release of early winter hatchery trout into most Puget Sound rivers.

More than 300,000 of the trout that would have gone to rivers will instead go to lakes.

Fish & Wildlife held the trout over the summer and reared them to “catchable trout size.” Most of the trout are between 11 and 13 inches long.

Photo by Larry Steagall/Kitsap Sun

VIDEO: ‘Boys in the Boat’ rowing to gold in Berlin

I wrote a feature story for Sunday’s paper.about the Kitsap connections to “Boys in the Boat,” a bestselling book about the University of Washington rowers who won gold in the 1936 Olympics.

Two of the eight rowers lived on Bainbridge Island. Roger Morris, the only one of the bunch with any prior rowing experience, spent part of his childhood on Manzanita Bay. Jim “Stub” McMillin spent his final decades on the island.

Daniel James Brown, the book’s author, managed to describe the crew’s gold medal-winning race with convincing detail. That’s partly thanks to the fact that pioneering filmmaker (and Nazi propagandist) Leni Riefenstahl was there to capture the action.

You can see the footage above. At the 4-minute mark are some close-ups of the UW crew at the finish line. Rowers Joe Rantz, who serves as the main “character” in Brown’s book, and McMillin are seen putting a giant wreath over their heads. Rantz is the one with the blond crew cut and McMillin is the lanky blond guy at the end.

The footage was part of Riefenstahl’s “Olympia,”. an epic, two-part documentary about the 1936 Olympics.

“Boys in the Boat” is a great read, even if you aren’t a rowing fan (I certainly wasn’t). The backdrop of the Depression-era Northwest will be interesting for locals, especially the chapters about Rantz’s pre-college years in Sequim, where he was abandoned by his parents and turned to bootlegging and fish poaching to survive.

Kitsap Regional Library is featuring “Boys in the Boat” as its “One Book, One Community” program.. KRL is planning several events around the book this month, including discussions with Brown and local rowing luminaries. For a schedule of events, head over here.

Dungeness River fishing opener delayed


Fisheries managers are delaying the opening of the fishing season on a long stretch of the Dungeness River.

Unusually low water flow in the north Olympic Peninsula river leaves Dungeness chinook salmon susceptible to spawning disturbances. The Dungeness chinook is an Endangered Species Act-listed stock.

The state Dept. of Fish & Wildlife is predicting that the river could open by Oct. 16 if enough rainfall raises the river level.
Otherwise, the closure will be extended.

The closure area is from the river’s mouth to the hatchery intake pipe about 11 miles upstream.

Photo: Upper Dungeness River, U.S. Forest Service.

Kalaloch will remain closed to razor clamming


Olympic National Park’s Kalaloch beach will remain closed to recreational razor clamming this year.

The beach has been closed the last three years due to downward-trending clam populations in the area.

Clam stock assessments conducted by the park, Quinault and Hoh tribes and the state Dept. of Fish & Wildlife determined that summer razor clam populations were about half of last year’s levels.

According to the park, adult clam sizes continue to remain small, with an average length of 3.8 inches.

Photo: Razor clammers near Seabrook on the Olympic Peninsula. Tristan Baurick/Kitsap Sun

Kitsap kayakers rescued off stormy B.C. coast


After battling 10-foot-high swells and capsizing in the surf, Poulsbo sea kayaker John Kuntz figured his problems would be over when reached shore.

But that was only the start of a five-day ordeal on a remote, storm-blasted stretch of the British Columbia coast. Kuntz and his paddling partner, Luca Lezzi of Bainbridge Island, found themselves trapped until the Canadian Coast Guard could reach them.

“It was combination of terror and just amazement,” said Kuntz, owner of Port Gamble-based Olympic Outdoor Center. “I’ve been in a lot storms but never a storm that lasted so many days and was so intense. It was like standing next to a jet engine for about five days.”


Kuntz and Lezzi, who works for Kuntz, ended up staying on the windswept beach for five nights. On Friday, the Canadian Coast Guard pushed through gale-force winds to reach them. Both are now safe at home.

They had set out on Sept. 19 from Fair Harbour on north Vancouver Island. They planned to turn around after three days and paddle back.

“On Sunday, it was calm and sunny and beautiful but the wind picked up pretty quick,” Kuntz said. They were hit with gusts of up to 25 knots as they raced for shore.

Kuntz has been paddling for more than three decades. Lezzi, 21, has far less experience, but he made up for it with youthful courage and brawn.


“I was proud of the kid,” Kuntz said Lezzi, who used to row for Pacific Lutheran University. “His inexperience didn’t even show.”

They reached land in the nick of time. Within a half hour, the wind’s strength had doubled.

They camped on the south end of the Brooks Peninsula Provincial Park, a 71,100-acre, densely-wooded preserve that gets few visitors. When they woke, the storm was still surging, eventually reaching 74 knots and tossing 40-foot waves off the peninsula.

Kuntz radioed for a water taxi, but the captain said there was no way he was going into the storm.

“We went into survival mode,” Kuntz said.

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