OLYMPIA - The tidal waters of Hood Canal will reclaim 32 acres of former salt marsh when a dike is partially breached at the mouth of the Union River near Belfair, completing a joint habitat-restoration project by Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) and Hood Canal Salmon Enhancement Group.
The dike has been in place since the early 20th century and will be breached in two locations later this month in the Union River tidelands. Two walking bridges spanning the dike will be constructed across the breached areas and added to the Theler Trail system. The bridges are set for completion during late summer or early fall.
A setback dike with a new section of trail was constructed on this WDFW-owned property prior to the construction phase of the dike breaching to allow the public to continue to use the trail system.
The popular Theler Trail and its two-plus miles of interpretive walking paths account for 200,000 visits per year, according to a representative for the adjoining Theler Wetlands (http://www.theler.org/). The part of the Theler Trail system that spans the dike has been temporarily detoured for safety during the construction process, but will reopen upon completion of the two bridges
WDFW Habitat Biologist Doris Small said tidelands are important rearing grounds for juvenile salmon as well as a diversity of other fish and wildlife species. Juvenile chum and chinook salmon depend on estuaries during early marine life for food resources, refuge from predation, and a gradual transition from freshwater to saltwater habitat.
The Union River supports ESA listed Hood Canal summer chum salmon and Puget Sound chinook, as well as coho salmon and steelhead and a diversity of other species including great blue herons, bald eagles, osprey, shorebirds, songbirds, marine birds, waterfowl, black-tailed deer, and many more.
“The Union River estuary restoration is one of many habitat protection and restoration projects that benefit fish, wildlife and people in Lynch Cove,” said Small. “Restoring tidelands has positive effects on entire ecosystems. Salt marsh plants and grasses grow fast, decompose, and drive the whole food chain.”
Aerial photos taken this month illustrate the restoration area prior to the breaching of two locations in the dike.
“Because the project area is still an active construction zone, the public is not allowed on the trail that spans the dike quite yet, but that will soon change,” said Small. “We are very excited to show the finished project to the public in the coming weeks since it’s really a win-win for anyone who values healthy fish and wildlife populations and improved access to public lands.”
The project was funded by a $1.8 million competitive Coastal Wetlands Grant from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and a $300,000 matching grant from the Washington State Recreation and Conservation Office’s Salmon Recovery Funding Board.