Boardwalk, estuary attract more than birds to refuge
JEFFREY P. MAYOR
Since the Nisqually Estuary Boardwalk Trail opened a year ago, it and the views it offers have proven to be popular attractions.
For the first time at the Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge, visitation topped 200,000 for the fiscal year that ended in September. That count was 33 percent higher than the previous year.
“Our visitation has been amazing. Even if it’s halfway decent weather, we have a lot of people out here,” said refuge manager Jean Takekawa.
On weekends when she walks the trails on her own, Takekawa notices the difference. “I’m seeing so many new people coming out,” she said.
The $2.8 million, mile-long boardwalk was one of the key new elements when the refuge tore down much of the Brown Farm dike and trail as part of the refuge’s three-year, $13 million restoration of 762 acres of saltwater estuary.
The boardwalk was part of the plan to replace the popular 51/2-mile trail atop the old dike. “It allows you to get out and see the estuary restoration,” Takekawa said of walking the boardwalk.
Not only are more people coming to the refuge, more people are coming into the visitor center to look at the exhibits and get information. Visitation at the center went up 70 percent in the last fiscal year, Takekawa said.
Takekawa said the estuary is evolving faster than she and the refuge staff expected.
Salt marsh vegetation is starting to return, the sloughs and channels have deepened and changed, and evidence of the old dike disappears with each tidal change.
There were people opposed to removing the Brown Farm Dike Trail, but Takekawa said many of those have been won over. She credits the estuary restoration results and the boardwalk trail.
“I’ve had so many people tell me, even ones who were unhappy, that they like it the way it is now. It’s so dynamic with the tidal changes,” she said.
“If it’s the weekend, and it’s nice out, come early,” Takekawa said to visitors. “The parking lot can be kind of crazy in the afternoon.”
As staffers prepared for and completed the estuary project, Takekawa said they expected a bump in visitation, but this has exceeded those expectations.
“We still think visitation will subside at some point, but right now it’s showing no sign of letting up,” she said. “People are coming back because it is so different every time.”
Jeffrey P. Mayor: 253-597-8640 email@example.com blog.thenewstribune.com/adventure