The landowners interviewed for this article requested to share their story anonymously. This article is written (with permission) in their voice to communicate their thoughtful observations about living along the shoreline of South Puget Sound.
“We are stewards of almost two acres of land, with about 300 feet of 'no bank' shoreline adjacent to a salt water lagoon and gravel spit. Nearby a new gravel spit is forming impacted by a small stream visited by migrating salmon. The trees on our land include several majestic Garry Oaks growing amongst Big Leaf Maples, Pacific Madrone, and Douglas Fir. Eagles, osprey, deer, coyotes and at least one fox frequent the area.
It was love at first sight when we purchased this place in the early 1990's. We both had parents in the marine industry, so we grew up near saltwater. To us, smelling the sea and watching the light play off of it feels like home. Our old cabin by the water also harkens to a family Scandinavian heritage. It is an amazing place to swim and kayak, especially when friends and family come to visit in the summer. The rich history of the land was also a draw. Deposits of buried oyster and clam shells suggest a Native American presence in days past. We have been told stories of people taking day trips by paddle steamer in the 1900s here from Olympia to enjoy picnics on the meadow. That draw and feeling of camaraderie persists today, with many a summer day fading into night as visitors come to call. We have tried to preserve the land and its history as much as possible, sensing a spiritual quality in its natural beauty.
Living on a rocky beach makes us fully appreciate the constant change brought to it by currents, tides and wind. A visit from a friend who works with U. S. Fish and Wildlife got us thinking about natural mitigation techniques to prevent further beach loss. Bulkheads located on neighboring properties also contribute to the scouring of the beach. In the 25 years we’ve lived here, we’ve lost from 10-15 feet of our shorefront. We wanted to protect our Garry Oaks and our meadow, but we wanted to do it naturally. We joined Capitol Land Trust and saw an ad for Mason Conservation District’s native plant sale with grants available for planting natives on shorefront property, so we pursued it.
Mason Conservation specialist, Karin Strelioff, visited our property several times to discuss options for reducing erosion. Surveyors also visited the property to assess how the beach was eroding as compared to shoreline management of neighboring properties. It is a slow process because we want to make the best informed decisions. It’s a tough question, how much should you do? The gravel beach is always shifting with our low bank, and with climate change the tides keep getting higher. We wanted to keep the property as pristine as possible. In the end, Karin wrote up a native plant-based planting plan and suggested moving our small boat house back and arranging driftwood on the meadow above the shoreline as a natural barrier enhanced by the native plantings.
We are in the first stage of our project. We received a mini-grant from Mason Conservation to purchase and plant native shoreline plants. The grant process was seamless and a good incentive for us - what did we have to lose? We’ve planted many native plants in the last year, including three Garry Oak saplings, and are now waiting to see what takes and what effects this has on our land.
South Puget Sound is facing big problems. In our area, for example, we’ve seen eel grass and kelp beds disappear, and with it habitat for small fish. The natural beauty of the area is also at risk, with more large suburban style houses being built with lawns that seep chemicals into the Sound. We are, however, optimistic about the fate of Puget Sound. It won’t be easy. Insufficient funding and a resistance to regulations are a few barriers we see. But, based on our experience, we think enough people are trying to do something good and if we keep going in this direction, we could make an impact.
We recommend that people get involved. Join groups such as Capitol Land Trust and Mason Conservation District that are trying to restore natural habitat. Know your native plants and add them to your property. Protecting Puget Sound takes effort. Each of us are stewards of where we live and we should all take responsibility for the good of the whole.”
By Pat Karman and Corinne Poole
We are stewards of an 8-acre parcel of property with about 200 feet of no-bank waterfront on North Bay, which we purchased in 2001. Before moving here, we lived in a wonderful neighborhood in Seattle, but we felt a pull to the water, having both grown up on the Salish Sea.
We were looking for view property, not waterfront. But after a three-year search, we could not resist this place with Douglas fir trees up to 125 feet tall, complete with an eagle’s nest. Some people might consider an eagle’s nest a disadvantage, given regulations that limit human activities around the nest, but we were delighted to cohabit with eagles.
For the first three years, we planted dozens of native plants, some from the Mason Conservation District and some relocated on our own property. Our objective was to provide wildlife corridors with cover and food. We attended workshops on native plant identification, soil health, vegetation management and rain gardens.
In 2004, we began building the first structure on the property, a garage/shop/storage building, then in 2005 we started building our house. We built both the garage and house with our own hands, living in a tent trailer during construction.
We noticed that it is not uncommon for neighbors to fill an area that lies inland of a gravel dune, which tends to build up along the shore during storms. We have resisted the idea of adding fill to our “front yard,” and we allowed the return of native aspen trees on the shoreline — an area that was bulldozed before our arrival. High tides and heavy rains tend to cause water to back up behind the gravel dune, creating a lake in some places. We have found that by avoiding the fill, water drains out faster when the tide recedes.
We love to swim in the bay, and we launch our kayaks and rowboat from the beach. We enjoy eating clams from our beach. We watch wildlife in the uplands and along the shore. Our swim float was even the birthplace for a baby seal in 2015. Unfortunately, the foxes and coyotes we saw after moving here have been absent, as more people have moved to the area.
Our first contact with the Mason Conservation District may have been when we were trying to find out how to remove Scot’s broom and blackberries without using poison. We made many phone calls and eventually contacted Kirsten at the district. She helped us borrow a “weed wrench” for pulling the invasive plants and also offered advice regarding our laying hens. While registering for a blueberry propagation workshop, we learned of the Shore Friendly program and decided to participate.
MCD staffers have been very helpful as a resource and “sounding board.” Their enthusiasm and knowledge have been evident during workshops, consultations and conversations, which have helped form our vision and reinforced our commitment to stewardship.
It sounds trite, but everyone needs to be more aware of the natural processes and understand that humankind cannot create substitutes for these processes. Technology cannot fix the damage.
We are a little pessimistic about the future of Puget Sound. In our experience, too many waterfront property owners ignore the impacts of their behavior rather than trying to understand the natural processes. We get discouraged when a former salt marsh gets filled in to become a great expanse of lawn treated with chemicals right to the water’s edge.
We are hopeful, however, about the direction society is moving to protect Puget Sound. It is heartening to see fewer bulkheads installed and more being removed. We are encouraged by those who are learning from the Mason Conservation District, which has a lot of useful information and resources. More people seem to be enjoying the benefits of waterfront living without messing things up for future generations.
Pat Karman and Corinne Poole worked with environment reporter Christopher Dunagan to tell their Shore Friendly Mason story.
By Jim Irving
As active boaters for 50 years, my wife Jan and I knew that we wanted to live on the water when we retired — not near the water, but on the water. We wanted a place where we could sail, row and kayak without traveling any distance. I also restore small classic wooden boats, so water access was imperative when considering where to live.
We found a home on 0.41 acres adjacent to Jarrells Cove on Harstine Island. The house was built in the 1960s on low-bank waterfront within 15 feet of the shore. Located in a sheltered portion of the cove, our 165 feet of shoreline bulkhead can best be characterized as a combination of pilings and stacked rocks.
Initially, I was not convinced that this cove, which dries to a mud flat twice a day, would induce me to live here. But tidal changes usher in a wide range of wildlife that cannot be seen at most deep-water sites.
My background lies in forestry, fire and wildlife biology. Jan spent her career as a high school science teacher. So, for both of us, a rural lifestyle was critical when we moved to Puget Sound from Salem, Oregon, in 2005.
Eight years later, I was recruited by fellow Harstine Islander Bill Burrows to serve on the Citizens Advisory Committee for salmon habitat recovery in our local region — Watershed Resource Inventory Area 14. Bill, a commissioner for Mason Conservation District, knew of my background and believed I could contribute, even though I had never studied salmon or shoreline issues. I have learned a great deal about what it means to be a shoreline owner and about my obligations as a resident of Puget Sound.
Later, I served on a focus group of waterfront property owners created by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife to address shoreline armoring. I was amazed that most participants had little understanding of how detrimental armoring — specifically bulkheads — can be to a healthy, functioning shoreline. Unfortunately, bulkheads continue to be a big selling point for prospective buyers.
As I became more involved in these ecological issues, John Bolender, manager of Mason Conservation District, invited me to get my portion of the shoreline assessed by the district. Environmental specialist Karin Strelioff was very helpful and informative, but because of the proximity of the house to the water and the slope of the bank, little can be done except for removing the ivy and planting deep-rooted species.
I am glad to see that Mason Conservation District is reaching out to local communities and organizations, sharing knowledge about the importance of shorelines to the Puget Sound ecosystem. Nevertheless, until shoreline owners reverse their mindset about the value of bulkheads, I believe that the recovery of the Sound will be way too slow.
My advice to other waterfront property owners is to become informed and to get involved with local groups. Reach out to the conservation district to find out about what resources (money and expertise) are available, so that you can become not just a shoreline owner but also a shoreline steward. The salmon you eat and the wildlife you view from your shoreline home depend on a healthy Puget Sound.
Jim Irving worked with environment reporter Christopher Dunagan to tell his Shore Friendly Mason story.
By Henry Dulemba
After eight years in Hawaii, my wife Tori and I returned to the Pacific Northwest and spent about a year searching for a new home. Although many people believe Hawaii is paradise, Puget Sound is our home, and we believe that this is the real paradise.
We looked at literally hundreds of properties before arriving at a quiet 1.5-acre site on Hood Canal with a well-kept house, 300 feet of waterfront, wildlife and a tiny year-round creek. We knew instantly that we were home.
The house sits on Sisters Point — the narrowest part of the entire canal. The one thing we found seriously lacking was the landscaping. The original owner, a master gardener, had created picture-perfect gardens and rockeries all around the house. But the intervening owner had no time for upkeep, and we found plants that had grown beyond huge, along with rapidly developing erosion problems along the shore.
Tori is an incredible gardener, but she knew that the wrong choices of plants and erosion control could result in unexpected problems, and she wanted to do things right. We checked in with Mason County Department of Community Development, where we found Rebecca Hersha friendly and informative. She reviewed our plans, offered Internet links to fabulous publications and directed us to Karin Strelioff at Mason Conservation District.
A few weeks later, Karin arrived at our home, armed with shoreline maps and photos that provided a historical look at the various changes that had taken place on our property. For three hours, we tramped up and down slopes, through trees and brush, as Karin showed us native and invasive plants and pointed out problem areas. She agreed that the shoreline erosion would get worse over time and suggested possible solutions. As she left, she said she would get back to us.
Holy smokes, did she get back to us! She provided 15 pages of reports, including photographs of each area, options for treatment and lists of plants — those we have, those we should have and those we should eradicate. She explained how we could safely stabilize our slopes. She also told us about a grant program through the conservation district, and we later submitted our plans and qualified for matching funds.
Getting ready for planting was not easy. Weeds were removed, and compost was worked into the rocks we call soil. We hauled dirt, compost and wood chips by bucket and wheelbarrow for a couple months getting ready. Planting was easy in comparison, but balancing on a 45-degree slope holding onto a plant, a shovel and a bucket of compost all at once still made us into expert rock climbers.
A final sign-off inspection by Katrinka Hibler of the conservation district was scheduled so we could receive the grant money. What we thought would be a quick visit turned into an incredibly productive session. We learned how to protect the native plants from summer drought and care for them as they mature through the years.
It has been hugely rewarding to see the plan come together bit by bit. We look forward to watching our new native plants grow and our small section of Hood Canal return to the way it was many years ago. We have become advocates at a personal level, sharing our experiences with friends and neighbors, encouraging them to take advantage of these tremendous local resources to recreate a natural Hood Canal.
Henry Dulemba worked with environment reporter Christopher Dunagan to tell his Shore Friendly Mason story.