Tag Archives: Belfair

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.

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.”

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Oxygen in Hood Canal reaches dangerous levels

I hate to be the voice of doom, but low-oxygen conditions in Hood Canal have never been worse — if you can believe the data gathered since the 1950s, alongside more intense monitoring the past several years.

In the southern portion of Hood Canal, you only need to go down about 30 feet to begin to see stressful oxygen levels in the range of 2 milligrams per liter. For current conditions at Hoodsport, go directly to the Hood Canal Dissolved Oxygen Program’s website, which lists data sent back from the Ocean Remote Chemical Analyzer (ORCA).

Sea creatures are beginning to show signs of stress, according to scuba diver Janna Nichols, who described her findings to me Wednesday after a dive in Hood Canal. She talked about fish “panting” as their gills moved in and out rapidly. Some fish, shrimp and other sealife had moved into shallower water. Watch Janna’s video of a wolf eel and other visuals she captured on the dive.

When low-oxygen conditions are that close to the surface, the danger is that a south wind will blow away the surface layer and bring low-oxygen water right to the surface, leaving fish with no place to go.

Of course, I have no desire to see a massive fish kill, but we already know that fish are probably dying in deep water due to the stressful conditions. I collect this information and offer these reports so that people can alert researchers when something happens. Being on the scene when fish are dying could provide important information about the nature of the low-oxygen problem. For details, please check out my stories in the Kitsap Sun Sept. 7 and Sept. 15 as well as the more technical report from Jan Newton on Sept. 7 (PDF 320 kb).

The phone number to report fish kills or oil spills is (800) 258-5990 or (800) OILS-911

If you haven’t heard, the worst low oxygen conditions normally occur in the fall after a summer of burgeoning numbers of plankton, encouraged by nitrogen and sunlight. By fall, much of the plankton has died and dropped to the bottom, where decay consumes the available of oxygen.

While there are plenty of natural sources of nitrogen in Hood Canal, computer models have demonstrated that human inputs from septic systems and stormwater can push things over the edge in the fall.

Officials are hoping that a new sewage-treatment plant in Belfair will begin to reduce the inputs of nitrogen into Lynch Cove. Another treatment plant is being planned in Potlatch. Stormwater upgrades also are being proposed for Belfair and other areas.

In addition to the low-oxygen problem, Hood Canal was closed to the harvest of oysters after people became sick from vibriosis, a natural bacteria that multiplies in warm conditions. See Kitsap Sun story Sept. 10 and Washington Department of Health maps.

The orange triangles represent this year's composite oxygen levels for the south half of Hood Canal. The latest reading, near the end of August, is the lowest ever seen.

Pacific Northwest Salmon Center finds a home

I recall a day in February of 2003 when Al Adams, Neil Werner and several others involved in the Hood Canal Salmon Enhancement Group called me to Belfair to unveil their vision for a Pacific Northwest Salmon Center.

They had been thinking about it for years, but it was time to bring their dream out into the open and try to raise $18 million to build a 40,000-square-foot building, including an exhibit hall, classrooms, computer lab, research facilities, museum and a small theater. Check out my first story on the salmon center and initial fund-raising efforts.

Raising that amount of money has proven difficult, but the salmon center was able to acquire enough funds to secure its own property adjacent to the Theler wetlands in Belfair. Buildings at the old Jack Johnson farm have been or are being remodeled to accommodate the basic idea for the center, and managers have plans for expansion as time goes on. See my story in last Sunday’s Kitsap Sun.

Future expansion may be limited by provisions added to Mason County’s zoning code, which affect educational facilities located on agriculturally zoned land. But Salmon Center organizers say they will cross that bridge when it is time to grow.

For now, many people feel a sense of accomplishment at realizing their dream, scaled back at least for now. More than a few people believe that things have turned out for the best. After all, building the salmon center on a farm, with its ties to history and the community, may be a better fit for Belfair and this critical wetlands where Hood Canal begins.

An open house has been scheduled for Dec. 9 from 3 to 6 p.m. at the center, which is located at the end of Roessel Road in Belfair.

Paddle adventure will circle the entire Kitsap Peninsula

I love simple ideas that can capture your imagination and your spirit of adventure, and that’s what we have with the recently announced Puget Sound Challenge.

Route of Puget Sound Challenge
Route of Puget Sound Challenge (Click to enlarge)

Here’s the idea: Everyone who loves to kayak is challenged to paddle from Belfair to Allyn, a distance of less than five miles as the crow flies.

What makes this challenge interesting is that Belfair is in southern part of Hood Canal and Allyn is in the southern part of Puget Sound. To complete the trip by water, you must paddle about 150 nautical miles — all the way through Hood Canal, around the tip of the Kitsap Peninsula and then south through Puget Sound.

You don’t have to do it all in one trip. You can go at your own pace — a day here and a day there throughout the coming summer. Olympic Kayak Club, which is sponsoring the event, has laid out a schedule for those who wish to travel as a group, starting in April. See Seabury Blair’s piece in the Kitsap Sun, or visit the Olympic Kayak Club’s Web site for details.

A $25 donation will get you a Challenge boat decal, a T-shirt and a reservation for October’s end-of-the-paddle celebration, plus $5 will go to the nonprofit Washington Water Trails, which is working in support of camping sites and other waterside facilities throughout the region.