Environmental restoration of Discovery Bay estuary reaches milestone with completion of Maynard nearshore restoration on November 8, 2014.

  • By John Caldbick
  • Posted 9/09/2015
  • HistoryLink.org Essay 11109

On November 8, 2014, after 10 years of planning and months of onsite work, the Maynard Nearshore Restoration Project at Discovery Bay in Jefferson County is completed. It marks a major milestone in ongoing efforts to reverse environmental damage caused by nearly a century of logging, milling, railroads, and other industrial activities on the Olympic Peninsula. Between 1889 and 1916 a patchwork railroad system knitted together settlements and sawmills along the peninsula's northern edge. Industry and transportation were carried on with little concern for the natural environment, leaving a legacy of contaminated ground, damaged streams and wetlands, and miles of tracks and trestles that in places severed the natural connections between shore and sea. At the south end of Discovery Bay a broad coalition of groups spearheaded by the North Olympic Salmon Coalition works to restore the nearshore environment to a more natural state, enabling endangered fish species to return unimpeded to their ancient spawning grounds. A separate but cooperating effort, the Olympic Discovery Trail, is planned to carry trekkers and bicyclists 130 miles from Port Townsend in the east to La Push on the Pacific Ocean using, where possible, the region's old railbed and trestles.

The Needs of Commerce

Early in the second half of the nineteenth century, extensive logging and milling operations began in Jefferson and Clallam counties on the northern Olympic Peninsula, which could then be reached only by sea or by an arduous overland trek. For decades the region struggled to obtain a railroad connection to the transcontinental lines that were reaching cities on the east shore of Puget Sound, including Seattle and Tacoma. These efforts ended in bitter disappointment, but by 1916 tracks had been laid that connected Olympic Peninsula cities, towns, mills, and small settlements from Port Townsend in the east to a place called Earles, about 30 miles beyond Port Angeles, to the west. Dozens of small logging railroads intersected these tracks, on which freshly cut logs were carried to the peninsula's mills. The mills' products were then loaded onto ships and carried down Puget Sound to a long-distance rail connection or directly to markets overseas.

Discovery Junction at the south end of Discovery Bay, an indentation from the Strait of Juan de Fuca near the eastern end of the Olympic Peninsula's northern shoreline, was the place where the rail lines from Port Townsend to the northeast, Quilcene to the south, and Port Angeles and points west met. By 1916 the Seattle, Port Angeles & Western Railway Company (SPA&W) had gained control of all the standard-gauge track that connected these places. On the last day of December 1918 the Chicago, Milwaukee & St. Paul Railway Company (known as the Milwaukee Road), which in 1909 had completed the last transcontinental line to be built, bought the SPA&W. The company operated the northern peninsula line for the next 62 years. It never connected to a larger system, but for decades the isolated enclave railroad was essential to the economic survival of those places it did serve.

The Milwaukee Road used its own barges and ships to move cargo from ports on the Strait of Juan de Fuca. The railroad tried with little success to develop a tourism industry, carrying people on its ships from ports on Puget Sound to Port Townsend or Port Angeles, then loading them onto trains to be trundled through the still-wild north coast. The spread of the automobile and the opening of the Olympic Loop Highway (U.S. Route 101) in August 1931 put an end to these efforts.

In 1940, 1943, and 1953 huge areas of virgin forest on the peninsula were put off limits to loggers and incorporated into Olympic National Park, greatly reducing lumbering activity and the need for rail transport. By the early 1970s only about 5,000 carloads a year ran on the tracks between Port Angeles and Port Townsend, and this was reduced by half in 1978 when the latter's wooden loading dock could no longer support the weight of trains. In 1980 the Milwaukee Road abandoned all of its operations in the Pacific Northwest. The Seattle & North Coast Railroad took over part of the line and continued to run trains between Port Townsend and Port Angeles. That company went bankrupt in 1984, ending nearly a century of railroad operations on the northern Olympic Peninsula. Most of the steel track was soon torn up, leaving behind the remnants of a rail system that, while necessary and useful to its time, had been built and operated with little regard for the natural environment.

The Toll on the Environment

As the railroad companies left the Olympic Peninsula some of the land under their tracks was sold or reverted to private ownership and became unavailable for public use. At the south end of Discovery Bay, however, the Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife acquired 156 acres of former railroad property and adjacent uplands. The department's goal was to restore and protect Snow Creek and Salmon Creek, both of which empty into the bay and are used by spawning salmon and other fish, and the bay's estuary, which serves as a critical transition zone between the freshwater and saltwater environments. The state-owned property extended from Maynard (the site of a once-thriving community and sawmill), located on the bay's west side a short distance from its southwest corner, south and then east along the shoreline past Salmon Creek to where Snow Creek meets the bay. In earlier times the two creeks met inland and ran to the bay as one, but industrial development and channelization altered their natural courses.

There was much at Discovery Bay that needed restoration. In 1914 the railroad used dirt fill and four trestles to span the estuary, creating an artificial shoreline where once there were mudflats. Behind the fill a lagoon was formed, with only a narrow, piling-clogged passage to the bay. An artificial fresh-water pond was established that at one time drained to the sea through a long-collapsed culvert that ran under the raised railbed.

The construction of U.S. Route 101, which opened in 1931, caused further disruption to the shoreline. For decades the Maynard Sawmill adjacent to the bay filled part of the tideflats with sawdust and other industrial detritus. The annual spawning runs of summer chum salmon and steelhead, both later protected under the Endangered Species Act, were severely impacted by decades of shoreline and upstream industrial use. Creosoted pilings leeched poisonous chemicals into the shallow waters of the estuary.

A large septic field was laid too close to Snow Creek and a water line serving the small community of Gardiner, located some six miles northwest, was buried under the raised railbed and slung under the trestles. Stone riprap and concrete bulkheads used to armor both the rail line and the estuary's shoreline altered the bay's tidal hydrology and sediment-transport processes, to the detriment of a variety of marine species. Much of the southern shore of Discovery Bay had suffered from these activities, leaving an unhealthy and blighted stretch on a coastline of magnificent natural beauty

The North Olympic Salmon Coalition

The Maynard Nearshore Restoration Project was one of several efforts on the peninsula spearheaded by the North Olympic Salmon Coalition (NOSC), aided by a lengthy list of partners and volunteers. The NOSC, a nonprofit organization working "to restore, enhance, and protect the habitat of North Olympic Peninsula wild salmon stocks and to promote community volunteerism, understanding, cooperation, and stewardship of these resources" ("Mission"), was one of 14 Regional Fisheries Enhancement Groups established statewide by the legislature in 1990 to involve local communities, volunteers, and landowners in restoring and protecting salmon runs harmed by decades of largely unregulated development. Each group's area of operation was defined by watershed boundaries, and the NOSC was given responsibility for Region 7, which extends across the northern parts of Jefferson and Clallam counties from Puget Sound to the western entrance of the Strait of Juan de Fuca. Regular financial support from the state and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service was supplemented for specific projects by a much wider pool of contributors.

The NOSC acted as sponsor for the Discovery Bay projects -- raising funds, planning, hiring engineers and contractors, obtaining permits, coordinating with property owners and other stakeholders, and providing overall supervision, among other responsibilities. Support and assistance came from a large array of project partners. For the Maynard nearshore project alone they included four state agencies -- Ecology, Fish and Wildlife, Natural Resources, and Transportation; three Native American entities -- the Jamestown S'Klallam Tribe, the Port Gamble S'Klallam Tribe, and the Point No Point Treaty Council; Jefferson County; the Jefferson County Marine Resources Committee; the Jefferson County Conservation District; the Jefferson Land Trust; the Hood Canal Coordinating Council; the private Moa-Tel Water System; the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service; and the Olympic Discovery Trail Coalition.

Funding sources for the Maynard nearshore restoration were also diverse and included, in addition to some of the partners listed above, the Hugh and Jane Ferguson Foundation, the Fish America Foundation, the Northwest Straits Commission, the Washington State Recreation and Conservation Office's Salmon Recovery Funding Board and Estuary and Salmon Restoration Program, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The coalition was also regularly helped by a large contingent of volunteers.

The Project

The Maynard project was one phase of a larger environmental recovery plan for Discovery Bay. In 2003 and 2004 the Jefferson County Conservation District, the NOSC, and other project partners restored a meandering 2,500-foot course for Salmon Creek, which had earlier been channelized. In 2008 the old mill site at Maynard was cleaned up, including the removal of 106 tons of concrete footings, 245 tons of contaminated soils, six and a half tons of oily bulkhead, and 35 creosote-treated railroad ties.

Planners of the 2014 restoration work first considered removing every trace of the railroad's crossing of the tidelands to restore them to their pre-industrial condition. This was deemed prohibitively expensive and, ironically, would also have threatened a rare population of Olympia oysters that had taken hold in the saltwater lagoon created by the raised railbed. It was decided that a more limited but still intense recovery effort was called for.

Planning and consultations went on for years. The actual execution of the last phases of the Maynard Nearshore Restoration Project started in May 2014 when Seton Construction Company of Port Townsend began working on an $810,000 contract to relocate 3,200 feet of the water main that served Gardiner. The old main was dug up and removed and a new line laid farther inland, adjacent to the right-of-way of U.S. 101.This work was completed on time in July 2014, opening the way for the remainder of the project to proceed.

Between July and September 2014, the NOSC (again contracting with Seton) yanked out 150 creosote pilings along the railbed after disassembling the four trestle superstructures they had supported. More than 13,000 cubic yards of industrial fill, some of it contaminated, and 1,900 tons of stone riprap and concrete were removed along two acres of shoreline. Some of the uncontaminated soil was used as fill at other locations on the project site. A defunct tide gate was taken out and the one-acre, freshwater Cherry Pond that had been artificially created decades earlier was transformed into a saltwater pocket estuary and salt marsh. In November 2014, after major restoration work was completed, volunteer workers planted 5,000 dunegrass plugs and 800 trees and shrubs at the site. By November 8, with the exception of additional future plantings, the Maynard Nearshore Restoration Project was deemed complete.

Cooperation, Not Conflict

The NOSC and its partners were not the only organizations interested in Discovery Bay. The Peninsula Trails Coalition and affiliated groups had worked for years to create the Olympic Discovery Trail, a 126-mile hiking-and-biking path stretching from Port Townsend to La Push on the Pacific Ocean. The intent was to use the Milwaukee Road's old railbed wherever possible, and at Discovery Bay this would have provided the trail with a stable foundation, picturesque trestles to cross, and panoramic views right at the water's edge. But this use was not compatible with the NOSC's efforts, putting two good causes into potential conflict.

In the end, the need to restore a damaged environment clearly trumped the trail coalition's preferred route, but the two sides worked together to reach a resolution acceptable to both. An alternate route for the trail (some of it temporary) skirting the shore of the estuary was agreed upon, with the NOSC and the trail coalition teaming up on the design. The NOSC also gave the trail supporters an assist by folding the trail project into the environmental work's permitting process. This helped relieve the trail coalition from having to deal with multiple government agencies and "a perfect storm of permits" ("Discovery Bay 'Choke Hold' Threatens Trail").

This coalition of coalitions was a win for those trying to make the north coast of the Olympic Peninsula, one of the state's most beautiful natural wonders, safely accessible for trekkers and riders. It was an even bigger win for nature -- for the salmon that spawn in the streams, the oysters that have colonized the lagoon, the migratory birds that rest and nest in the marshes, in short the ecosystem of the entire estuary and all the plants and creatures it sustains.

Sources: "Mission," North Olympic Salmon Coalition (NOSC) website accessed September 2, 2015 (http://nosc.org/about/mission/); "2004 Salmon Creek Channel Restoration," NOSC website accessed September 2, 2015 (http://nosc.org/wp-content/uploads/2011/06/2004SalmonCreekRemeanderOverview.pdf); "2008 Discovery Bay Mill Site Contaminated Soils Cleanup," NOSC website accessed September 2, 2015 (http://nosc.org/wp-content/uploads/2011/06/2008DiscoMillOverview.pdf); "Lower Discovery Bay Estuary Restoration," Discovery Bay Restoration website accessed September 5, 2015 (http://discoverybayrestoration.blogspot.com/2015/01/a-huge-milestone-in-restoration-of.html); Kevin Long, "Maynard Nearshore Restoration Project: Meeting the Needs of Diverse Stakeholders on a Large Scale Estuary Project," Washington State Recreation and Conservation Office website accessed September 4, 2015 (http://www.rco.wa.gov/documents/SalmonConference/presentations/NearshoreRestoration-NotJustAnother-PDFs/3%20LONG_Maynard%20Nearshore%20Project.pdf); "Maynard Nearshore Restoration (01-03-004)," Panoramic website accessed September 4, 2015 (http://waconnect.paladinpanoramic.com/Project/170/7262); Mark St.J. Couhig, "Discovery Bay 'Choke Hold' Threatens Trail," Sequim Gazette, May 20, 2014 (http://www.sequimgazette.com/news/251225681.html); Vivien Kuehl, "Fix It, Fish Will Come," Port Townsend Leader, November 4, 2014 (http://www.ptleader.com/); "Local Company Awarded Discovery Bay Water Line Project," Ibid., May 7, 2014; HistoryLink.org Online Encyclopedia of Washington State History, "The Railroads of Jefferson and Clallam Counties" (by John Caldbick) , http://www.historylink.org/ (accessed September 4, 2015); Kevin Long emails to John Caldbick, August 31, September 1, and September 3, 2105.

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