Back to nature

By SCOT W. PEARSON


Established in 1937, the Willapa National Wildlife Refuge located in South Willapa Bay was set up to preserve Mother Nature and provide a habitat for the natural inhabitants that make that area their home.

Over the years groups have voiced their concerns about the estuary and the continual natural degradation that only seemed to be accelerated by efforts trying to improve conditions. During the 1950’s five miles of dikes were introduced to create a winter habitat for waterfowl.

The project worked pretty good, but it also choked the exchange of water carrying nutrients and started affecting the chum salmon population,” said Ron Craig of Craig Enterprises.

We have been developing a project for several years. We are now at the stage to go through Pacific County to obtain grant funds to create a trailhead for the reserve,” said Craig.

Working with the Willapa Bay Enhancement Group, Craig and the Friends of Willapa National Wildlife Refuge have been restoring 500 acres and have improved conditions for wildlife and are very close to creating greater public access.

There is access all along the sands of Long Beach for the public, but nothing for the bay side,” remarks Craig.

The group looks to connect to another project currently running out of Long Beach providing a connection from the “Beach to Bay”. Craig notes that Phase 1 of the South Willapa Bay Nature Trail project, is at the point to request grant money, and needs the county to serve as agent. After several years of preparation, design, research and controversy over restoration and access into the Wildlife Refuge, it seems that all the hard work from volunteers, concerned citizens and nature groups may be paying off..

Decisions were made in 2008 that something needed to be done about the man made structures in the refuge.”

Since that time several projects have been instituted, like the Bear River Estuary Restoration Project, which have positively impacted the refuge by removal of dikes and fish ladders.

There was some controversy with goose hunters during that time,” Craig said. “But from what we have witnessed, the return of larger flocks of several water fowl seems to proved that the right decision was made.”

The current restoration project of dike removal has helped restore 500 acres of the refuge. Water is exchanging correctly providing the needed nutrients and the spartina has been eradicated.

The current project is to now get access for the public by building a natural trail that is compliant with the Americans with Disability Act. We will connect with the Beach to Bay trail project, create parking and a visitor center. We are looking to connect the community to nature,” said Craig.

Another hope of the project is to also be able to provide access for car top boaters and establish a greater kayak community. Based on the design, education opportunities will be increased for community youth, space will be available for local meetings, and the tourism created with the increase of migrating waterfowl may provide a small boon to Willapa Bay.

People need to come down to Willapa National Wildlife Refuge and see how it has changed,” noted Craig.

Improvements will provide the ability for hiking, picnics, bird watching, photography and boating. Education will be supported by interpretive trails, who might also observe the Elk herd that use the estuary.

An estimated 100 volunteers donated 4,000 hours in 2013 alone toward the effort. To learn more about the South Willapa Bay Nature Trail project visit the Friends group at  HYPERLINK "http://www.freindsofwillaparefuge.org" www.freindsofwillaparefuge.org.