UPDATE, Jan. 29, 2010
Big Beef Creek continues to threaten several houses built close to the stream. The house most at risk at the moment is one belonging to Jon and Kimberly DeYoung. Read about their story and see pictures in a piece I wrote for today’s Kitsap Sun.
It is the best of streams. It is the worst of streams.
There’s been talk lately about Big Beef Creek in Central Kitsap, where a much-traveled bridge has been closed to heavy traffic because of a washed-out bridge abutment. It appears the bridge will be closed for a couple of weeks, beginning next week. See my story in today’s Kitsap Sun.
There’s reason to believe we’ll be hearing a lot more about this stream in the future.
In my mind, Big Beef Creek is a beautiful salmon stream that has
been much abused through the years. Despite a large population of
people in the watershed, the creek has managed to hold onto its
populations of salmon. Somehow, pollution has been mostly
For a reporting project, I once explored the entire reach of Big Beef Creek, talking to hobby farmers, backcountry residents and lakeside home owners. That story does not seem to be in the Kitsap Sun’s public archives, but I’ll see if I can track it down and post a link here later.
Big Beef Creek begins in an extensive wetland called Morgan Marsh and drains toward Hood Canal near Lone Rock, north of Seabeck. The creek’s origins in the marsh are just a short distance from the beginnings of the Tahuya River, which drains in the opposite direction into Southern Hood Canal outside of Belfair.
Big Beef Creek flows through a developed area, including Lake Symington. Migrating salmon are forced to navigate a fish ladder at the dam that impounds Lake Symington.
Development has been a problem for the stream, which has seen a decline in salmon. But the stream has been a problem for development, particularly for houses built too close to its meandering banks. During heavy storms, the stream has been known to take out private bridges. And in 1994 it wiped out a bridge on Holly Road. At least two homes have been abandoned below the dam, and others are threatened by its rushing waters.
Out of nearly 60 streams monitored by the Kitsap County Health District throughout Kitsap County, Big Beef Creek is the fifth cleanest in terms of bacterial pollution. Its waters sometimes show low oxygen levels — probably because the waters slow down as they pass through Lake Symington.
Near the mouth of the creek, the University of Washington operates the Big Beef Creek Research Station, where studies of salmon are taking place. The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife manages a fish trap that catches adult salmon going upstream and juveniles going downstream. Those counts are used to help gauge the production of salmon for all of Hood Canal.
Big Beef Creek flows into an extensive estuary, where people often stop to watch bald eagles feeding in the spring before the salmon runs begin. The eagles often find midshipmen (bullheads) or else steal fish from the herons that congregate there. Some observers have counted up to 40 eagles at one time.
Seabeck Highway crosses the Big Beef estuary on a narrow strip of fill dumped there years ago when the road was built. The small bridge allows water to move between the upper and lower portions of the estuary. But high tides and rains can create a lot of flow through that tiny opening, which contributes to the risk of bridge failure.
The county’s chief road engineer, Jon Brand, told me that flows during the rains and high tides last week were the primary factors in undercutting the bridge abutment, and a log next to the bridge may have contributed to the problem.
There has been talk about removing some or all of the earthen causeway and building a much longer bridge. Biologists say that would dramatically improve estuarine habitat for juvenile salmon.
For now, a $79,000 study has been approved for the Hood Canal Salmon Enhancement Group to develop a restoration strategy for the lower one mile or so of the stream. Stay tuned for further details and check out the study description on the Hood Canal Coordinating Council’s Web site.