Willapa Bay is the second largest marine estuary on the west coast with over 260 square miles of water surface. The largest estuary is San Francisco Bay. As I compare a map of the two I marvel at the stark difference and think of what the San Francisco Bay area must have looked like before being developed by early settlers. The book Guide to the National Wildlife Refuges by Laura and William Riley describe Willapa as “…a secret national treasure with more diverse wildlife habitat for it’s size than any other US refuge.”
Here is a description of Willapa NWR from the website. “Willapa National Wildlife Refuge is over 15,000 acres of tidelands, temperate rainforest, ocean beaches, and small streams. It also includes several rare remnants of old growth coastal cedar forest. Preserving habitat for spawning wild salmon, hundreds of thousands of migrating shorebirds, and threatened species such as the western snowy plover and marbled murrelet, the refuge is a great place to see what the Pacific Northwest looked like over 100 years ago.”
This refuge encompasses many different complexes including an island only accessible by boat. The different areas are spread out around the Bay and the only section of the refuge I have visited is around the headquarters which is located near mile marker 24 on State Route 101. It is on the way from Olympia to the southwest WA coast. I always drive this back way to the Washington or Oregon coast. It is so much more interesting and takes no longer than the freeway unless you are heading to the central Oregon coast. And there is a fun place to stop for fish and chips in South Bend, WA.
My photos are from the Willapa Art Trail at the refuge headquarters. “One of the first of its kind, this Refuge trail uses commissioned art pieces to teach refuge visitors about the wildlife and habitat found along this path. You’ll find an absence of the traditional educational sign here. Students from the University of Washington Public Arts Program designed, constructed, and installed the artwork for the trail under the direction of professors John Young, Ian Robertson, and Jim Nicholls.”
This was in early June and it was so green when we visited. So classic pacific northwest…so lush, so alive, so nourishing.