Tag Archives: Hood Canal Environmental Council

Making amends for mistakes that damaged our natural world

Preservation is cheaper than restoration. If you need proof, one place to look is the Beard’s Cove estuary-restoration project on Hood Canal, about a mile outside of Belfair.

The project, nearing completion, is re-establishing 7.3 acres of saltwater wetlands by excavating and removing about 4,000 dumptruck loads of old fill dirt from an area originally built as a private park for the Beard’s Cove community.

Belfair and Lynch Cove as depicted on this map created in 1884 by the U.S. Office of Coast Survey. Colors were added, and the label “1973 fill area” shows the site of the current restoration. Image: Beard’s Cove restoration file.
Belfair and Lynch Cove as depicted on a map created in 1884 by the U.S. Office of Coast Survey. Colors were added, and the label “1973 fill area” shows the site of the current restoration.
Image: Beard’s Cove restoration file

It is a rare restoration project, because essentially the same dirt used to fill the wetlands in 1973 is being taken out and put back where it came from — across North Shore Road from the development. The cost is estimated at $1.1 million, as reported by Arla Shephard in a story in the Kitsap Sun.

Filling in the salt marsh was part of the development plan for the Beard’s Cove plat, approved by the Mason County commissioners a few years before construction began. The voter-approved Shoreline Management Act and other environmental regulations were just coming on the scene.

Hood Canal Environmental Council, a fledgling group at the time, testified against the Beard’s Cove project. Phil Best, a young lawyer who would later become Kitsap County commissioner, was a founder of that organization.

“We were concerned that this project would set a precedent,” Phil told me. “If you start filling in all these marsh areas, you would be destroying a lot of salmon habitat throughout Hood Canal.”

Although scientists today know much more about the value of estuaries, Phil said there was plenty of evidence at the time about the damage that would be caused by this kind of project. Much of the scientific information was provided by researchers at the University of Washington’s Big Beef Creek Research Station. That facility, near Seabeck in Kitsap County, is still used for salmon research.

In the end, the Beard’s Cove developer prevailed with the county commissioners and the courts, and the fill was dumped into the estuary to create a park. Today, of course, a project like this would not even get off the drawing board.

Aerial photo from 1973 during construction of the Beard’s Cove development, a portion of which was built on fill going out into Hood Canal. Image: Beard’s Cove restoration file.
Aerial photo from 1973 during construction of the Beard’s Cove development, a portion of which was built on fill going out into Hood Canal.
Image: Beard’s Cove restoration file.

“We’re finally getting to where things should be,” Phil said, “but it is unfortunate that we have to spend millions of taxpayer dollars, when the permit for this should have been denied in the first place. There is a lesson to be learned here: It is better to err on the side of caution when it comes to environmental issues.”

For every restoration project we know about, someone could have avoided the cost by not doing the damage in the first place. We must recognize that we are paying for many mistakes made by our forefathers.

At the same time, we must face the fact that — despite all we have learned — we are still doing damage to the ecosystem. Some damage is inevitable, as more development is needed to accommodate a growing population. But we should be as careful as we can, so our descendants don’t have to undo what we have done.

The alternative, of course, is far more dreadful. If we cannot turn the tide on our ecological destruction and find a way to live within the natural world, Puget Sound is doomed to ecological collapse. Future generations might live on a large, sterile pond and wonder what it once was like. They might as well live on the moon.

The 540 or more families who live in the Beard’s Cove Community today had nothing to do with the mistakes that were made. Who could blame them for using the park and swimming pool developed for their use? People who grew up in Beard’s Cove cherish the memories of that park. I would suggest that it is of little value to blame anyone for past mistakes, since society as a whole sanctioned all sorts of activities that we would not allow today.

The Beard’s Cove community should be congratulated for breaking with the past and allowing the restoration to take place. It may be true that the decision was easier after the park fell into disrepair. Someone apparently destroyed the old swimming pool by draining it during an extreme high tide, causing it to “float” up out of the ground — or so the story goes, says Louena “Louie” Yelverton, president of the Beard’s Cove Community Organization.

Louie says the community supports the restoration of the marsh and looks forward to seeing a more natural shoreline.

“it is nice to be part of a restoration project, realizing that this is a small part of a 700-acre project that is going to help salmon,” she said. “As a society, we are starting to learn that we need to give forethought to the future. It might not affect us, but it will be there for our grandkids and future generations. I am glad to be part of this.”

Louie credits Kate Kuhlman of Great Peninsula Conservancy for helping to generate goodwill in the community. Her concerns for the people as well as the steadfast promotion of the science helped get the project to construction. GPC coordinated the grants to get the work done with some land left for community use.

“She has been a trooper through everything,” Louie said. “Now we are going to have a park, and the shoreline is going to be good for salmon. I am super-excited that we are toward the end of this and will get to see what all the hard work has accomplished.”

Wetlands along the North Shore of Hood Canal have been undergoing protection and restoration for 30 years. This is where I chose to write the opening chapter of the book “Hood Canal: Splendor at Risk.”

The Beard’s Cove project, including a permanent conservation easement, fills in the final gap in a full 1.7 miles of unbroken estuarine habitat to be preserved in perpetuity, thanks to GPC and its North Mason predecessor, Hood Canal Land Trust, along with Pacific Northwest Salmon Center, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife and the North Mason School District.

The project includes the construction of 2,530 feet of newly formed tide channels, 1,200 feet of graveled beach and large woody debris habitat structures.

Marsh areas like this are among the most productive places on the planet, supporting a rich food web that includes salmon species such as Puget Sound chinook, Puget Sound steelhead and Hood Canal summer chum, all listed as “threatened” on the Endangered Species List.

‘Splendor at Risk’ still the refrain for Hood Canal

Twenty years ago today, the Kitsap Sun published the first story in a yearlong series of articles about the Hood Canal ecosystem. The following year, 1991, we compiled the series into a book, “Hood Canal: Splendor at Risk.”

All these years later, I still hear from folks who tell me that the book has given them a better understanding of natural systems. They say it has helped them realize why Hood Canal remains a special place to visit, to work and to live. I’m always pleased to hear from Hood Canal residents who tell me that this book retains a special place on their coffee tables or bookshelves.

With the hope that “Splendor at Risk” still has relevance today and to offer it free to more people, we are making the original publication available to read online (Scribd) or to download one chapter at a time (PDF).

Thinking back to the origins of the book, it all started with a notion by Mike Phillips, who had just become editor. He wanted to launch a big project to bring the staff together, so he solicited ideas on a broad range of topics. The idea to focus on Hood Canal came from Craig Darby, a reporter who had been pushing for a Hood Canal series even before Phillips arrived.

Until then, I had been reluctant to endorse Craig’s idea. I believed a comprehensive look at the entire Hood Canal ecosystem was too ambitious for one or two reporters, which had been the limit of our collaboration at the time. But when I heard that a dozen news reporters would be involved, I became enthusiastic. In the end, management of the project was turned over to City Editor Jeff Brody and me. We came up with an outline for a series of articles every month for a year.

We covered water resources, water quality, wetlands, fish, shellfish, forests and related jobs. We also covered human activities, such as places to visit, the Navy’s submarine base at Bangor and the rapid growth of housing development.

The one topic that we failed to anticipate — since the problem was not well understood — was Hood Canal’s growing low-oxygen problem.

Every news reporter on staff at the time played some role. I ended up writing about half the stories over the course of the year.

I still remember how I escaped from the bustle of the city to spend time in remote areas. One part of my mind focused on the science, while another tried to capture the mood for each environmental story. Each monthly series began with a scene-setter noting the specific time of year.

Gary and Celia Parrot, caretakers of the Klingel Wetlands outside of Belfair, helped me articulate how it feels to embrace the wildness of a place — something I wanted people to understand right up front. From the introduction published 20 years ago today:

It’s as if the human heart yearns for a more primitive experience, away from the cluttered pattern of modern life, says Celia Parrot, caretaker of the property.

“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….

“We have to get to know our forests and our marshes, so we know what we cannot do to them…”

The Sun’s designer/photographer at the time, Theresa Aubin, came up with a headline for that introductory piece. She called it “Hood Canal: Splendor at Risk.” The name stuck as the title for the entire series and the book.

When the project was finished, we thought we were done. But there were calls for reprints, and we conceived the book project. Jeff Brody reorganized the stories into logical chapters. We got help from the staff at Washington Sea Grant to design the pages and coordinate the publication. I undertook the tedium of creating a topical index.

Some 6,000 copies were produced in two printings, sold mostly through advance orders. And then the book was out of print. Thanks go to Phil Best of the Hood Canal Environmental Council for his continued interest through the years and his willingness to scan the pages into digital format so that everyone can read this book online.

We never submitted the book itself for any awards, but the Washington State Library System noticed it, and we were honored with a Governor’s Writing Award presented by Booth Gardner, governor at the time.

On the five-year anniversary of the series, I returned to the broad subject of Hood Canal and updated some of the major topics, but the connections of place and time were missing. Regular readers know that I frequently delve into Hood Canal issues in some depth — but not across the landscape that “Splendor at Risk” represents.

At the end of each monthly series, we offered a list of things that people could do to help Hood Canal. In the book, the list became a chapter unto itself, and it is interesting to read that now. Many of the suggestions call for people to learn, get involved in projects and demand action from their government. If I were to make such a list for Hood Canal and Puget Sound today, it would not be much different.

At the time we wrote the series, a project of this scope was highly unusual for a newspaper our size. In the newspaper business today, with shrinking staffs, such a project seems even more remote.

I want to add that I’m proud to work for a publication that encourages environmental reporting. Thinking back to 20 years ago, I realize that this yearlong reporting effort infused me with insights that have stayed with me and grown through the years. Here is how I expressed those thoughts in the preface to the book, written 19 years ago:

Hood Canal has changed me. Even though I’ve worked for The Sun for 14 years, I am not the same writer I was a year ago. Even though I’ve lived in the Northwest for 21 years, I am not the same person.

It isn’t so much the beauty of Hood Canal that has me enchanted. At some point, it’s best to get beyond the pure splendor of the place. Call it an appreciation that the wildness of nature still exists, one small life linked to another, all struggling to survive, humans included.