Sharing the joy of restoring Hood Canal wetlands

UPDATE, Oct. 20, 2010

The Kitsap Sun’s “North Mason Life” reporter, Rodika Tollefson, put her own spin on the Klingel Wetlands story. She was able to interview Gary Parrot, who returned from an out-of-town trip, and was able to talk about the history of the wetlands.
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Last week, I had a rare opportunity to take a mental trip back in time. It happened twice, as I stood in two different Hood Canal wetlands and recalled the past while pondering the future.

The first place was the Klingel Wetlands outside Belfair on the North Shore Road. See Kitsap Sun, Oct. 7.

Sandra Staples-Bortner, executive director of the Great Peninsula Conservancy, considers changes coming to the Klingel Wetlands as she stands on an old farm dike destined for removal.
Kitsap Sun photo by Larry Steagall

This place is special to me because I spent time here in June of 1990, preparing to write the introduction for a yearlong newspaper series that would become the book “Hood Canal Splendor at Risk.” Here are the opening lines of the book, which described the Klingel wetlands at that time:

“A great blue heron, its broad wings spread to the wind, dips out of an overcast sky and glides into the marsh. Extending its legs, the large bird lands gracefully among tall reeds near the water. The tweet-tweet-tweetering of songbirds creates an agreeable chorus, though each bird sings its own distinct song.

“Untold numbers of wild birds share this place on Hood Canal, just outside of Belfair on the North Shore. River otter slink along the shore at sunset. Mink, beaver and muskrat mind their own ways, thanks to what remains of this ancient swamp. Human visitors may find themselves refreshed by the wildness here, as in other natural environs. Some people describe a warm feeling of enthrallment, a kind of mild hypnotic state.”

Gary and Celia Parrot, who have kept watch over the property all these years, appreciated the need to connect people to nature. They helped me express a concept that I’m afraid is largely lost on our urban-based society.

As Celia explained to me, the human heart yearns for a more primitive experience, away from the cluttered pattern of modern life:

“The reason I go out two or three times a day is not just to walk the dogs,” she said. “It’s like a refueling. I go out to get another dose of that intimate feeling.”

I was disappointed that Gary and Celia were out of town last week, when I visited the Klingel Wetlands. The area has changed to some extent over the past 20 years. The old farm dike is more overgrown with blackberries — including the spot where the late Bill Hunt and I were scolded by a mallard duck protecting his nest and his mate.

To read the rest of the introductory narrative, download Chapter 1 (PDF 1.2 mb) of Splendor at Risk.

The second wetland I visited last week was the Skokomish River estuary in southern Hood Canal. I was pleased to see Keith Dublanica there among the many people celebrating the removal of the last piece of dike on Nalley Island. See Kitsap Sun, Oct. 10.

Keith now works for Mason Conservation District, which has become a key player in many stream and estuary restorations throughout the region. In 2002, Keith was natural resources director for the Skokomish Tribe. He had already spent years helping to develop a vision of the Skokomish estuary without the dikes that confined the river.

When Keith and I drove out to the property and clambered up onto the dike eight years ago, the blackberries and scotchbroom were more than an annoyance.

Quoting from my story published in the Kitsap Sun March 2, 2002:

“For decades, the dike had served its purpose, keeping seawater out of the fertile fields once used for grazing or growing hay and other crops.

“But the sweet grass and native plants used to weave traditional baskets no longer grow here. The dike has inhibited the migration of salmon, and it has altered the habitat for native birds, river otter and other wildlife.

“For many years, tribal members and biologists have dreamed of restoring the estuary to a more natural condition. Dublanica now finds himself on the verge of a major step in that direction.

“With recent approval from the city of Tacoma, which owns this land, Dublanica plans to breach the dike in five places and let the seawater flow in. In time, the delta will appear more like it did before the first settlers arrived, he said.

“‘The saltwater will kill the blackberries and the Scotch broom,’ Dublanica said.

“He pointed to a patch of reed canarygrass, an invasive plant that grows so thick it chokes out most other plants.

“‘Saltwater will kill it,’ he said.”

I went back to that same spot last week to note the changes following dike removal in 2007. I knew the blackberries and scotchbroom were long gone, because I was out there last year. But what was amazing was that over the summer brackish plants such as bullrushes were taking over. New tidal channels were forming, and beaches were evolving from thick mud to fine gravels.

It’s quite a thrill to see nature embrace the assistance she has been getting from us humans, and it’s a pleasure to share this experience with those who have played key roles in making it happen. Because state and federal funds are involved, we can all consider ourselves part of the effort.

Skokomish Tribal Chairman Guy Miller, left, talks with Keith Dublanica of Mason Conservation District as work continues to remove the last dike remaining on Nalley Island.
Kitsap Sun photo by Larry Steagall

One thought on “Sharing the joy of restoring Hood Canal wetlands

  1. UPDATE, Oct. 20, 2010

    The Kitsap Sun’s “North Mason Life” reporter, Rodika Tollefson, put her own spin on the Klingel Wetlands story. She was able to interview Gary Parrot, who returned from an out-of-town trip, and was able to talk about the history of the wetlands.

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