A Walk on the Wild Side

This morning we went for a walk at one of my favorite places, the Nisqually Wildlife Refuge.  I love it out there because it’s ever-changing:  by season, by tide and weather, by migration patterns.  There is always something new to see.  I can’t name 3/4 of the birds that I see or hear out there, but I like ’em anyways.  This morning we saw half a dozen eagles, but they were too far away (and in flight) so I wasn’t able to get a shot.  The historical information I share in this post was taken directly from the US Fish and Wildlife website.


I’m always amazed at how quickly the tide turns, too.  It was in when we started on the boardwalk.  We walked to the end of the boardwalk and when we turned around the landscape had changed significantly and the water was a movin’.


So, let’s get the the history of this beautiful refuge.

In 1833, the Hudson’s Bay Company established a trading post and farm in the Nisqually River delta. Soon, European-Americans began to settle in the area. By 1839, a major part of the economy began to shift from fur trading to farming and sheep grazing.


In 1845, the McAllister family settled on Medicine Creek, now McAllister Creek. By 1852, James McAllister had dammed McAllister Creek and built a sawmill, which produced some of the first lumber to be exported from Puget Sound to San Francisco.


The refuge is the site of the signing of the first Indian treaty in Washington Territory, in December 1854, at a grove along the east bank of McAllister Creek now known as the Treaty Trees. The treaty reserved certain fishing, hunting, and gathering rights for the tribes. Members of the Nisqually Tribe still exercise these rights, fishing for salmon in refuge waters.

During the late 19th century, many estuarine habitats were lost, including parts of the Nisqually River estuary, as pioneers throughout the Puget Sound area diked and drained deltas for agriculture. Ditches, dikes, and fence remnants on the tidelands seaward of the main dike indicate past use of some marsh areas, while old pilings and cable in the surge plain forest suggest logging.


In 1904, Alson Brown and his wife purchased 2,350 acres of the Nisqually River estuary. Using a horse-drawn scoop and a crew of 30 men, Brown built the original 4-mile dike, which is now a prominent feature of the refuge. In 1910, the dike was reinforced by a dredge that filled in the remaining sloughs. The fertile river deltas were converted to crop production. The farm also raised chickens and hogs, ran a dairy, and maintained a general store. The foundations of various farm buildings are scattered around the delta. The apple orchard near refuge headquarters is also a remnant of the farm. Structural and landscape elements associated with the Brown Farm have been found eligible for listing on the National Register of Historic Places (NRHP).


Although Brown went bankrupt after World War I, the farm continued to operate under subsequent owners, who rebuilt the Brown Farm Dike, higher than the first, as well at the McAllister Cross Dike. They also built the Twin Barns in 1932. These barns were determined ineligible to the NRHP in the 1970s. They were used as an environmental education center, but were severely damaged and have been closed since the 2001 earthquake


In 1974, Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge was established to protect the delta and its diversity of fish and wildlife habitats.  The Nisqually estuary was restored in 2009 by removing dikes and reconnecting 762 acres with the tides of Puget Sound.  This is the largest estuary restoration project in the Pacific Northwest and an important step in the recovery of Puget Sound.

Over 200 species of bird visit the Refuge over the course of the year.  The concentrated diversity of habitats found on an estuary ensure visitation by large quantities of song birds, water fowl, raptors and shorebirds.

It was a beautiful morning out there, even with the fog.  The song birds were out in force.  Green buds are popping out everywhere.  Spring has arrived (early) in the Pacific Northwest and I am loving it!


6 thoughts on “A Walk on the Wild Side

  1. I love it there! It’s pretty and the birds are very active. Great article. Was the very end of the boardwalk open yet? I went there several months ago and it was gated off for the winter.


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