Two preserves named after generous Northwesterners might fit the bill for those looking for unforgettable nature walks this summer.
Theler Wetland Trails, Belfair
The Theler Wetlands on Hood Canal in Belfair encompasses salt- and freshwater marshes, forested wetlands and the Union River Estuary. While the best seasons for birding are autumn through spring, the peaceful wetland trails are also a joy in the summer.
The site includes a welcome arch leading to educational kiosks and two-plus miles of accessible, ADA-approved trails. The trails include a boardwalk, waterway and grassland experiences, plus an interesting side trail to the Pacific Northwest Salmon Center. The Salmon Center is picturesquely located on historic farmland complete with organic gardens, chickens, goats and alpacas.
The wetlands preserve is named after Mary Theler, wife of real estate developer Sam Theler. Sam and Mary moved from Seattle to Belfair in 1926 where Sam, a real estate developer, purchased 500 acres from the Puget Mill Company. Sam platted the land and gave away some of the tracts for use as community amenities such as a church, Masonic Lodge, elementary school and playground. When Sam died in 1968 he willed his estate to the North Mason School District, part of which has become the Theler Wetlands. The wetlands preserve along with adjacent state land encompasses 135 acres.
Want to add a memorable meal to your adventure? Head south from Belfair on Highway 106 for about 16 miles to the luxurious, welcoming Alderbrook Resort (www.alderbrookresort.com, 360-898-2200)
GETTING THERE: From Highway 3 at Milepost 25.5 near the south end of Belfair, turn into the Mary E. Theler Community Center (22871 Hwy. 3). The trailhead can be found at south end of parking lot. NOTE – dogs are not allowed at the Theler Wetlands.
Ebey’s Landing & the Robert Y. Pratt Preserve on Whidbey Island
The bluff at Ebey’s Landing offers some of the most spectacular views in Washington—or even the world, according to one globe-trotting uncle of mine. On a clear day you can practically see forever with views of Mount Baker, the Cascade Range, Mount Rainier, and the Olympics looming above the sparking waters of Admiralty Inlet and the Straight of Juan de Fuca. Sandwiched in between are endless beaches, undisturbed coastal wetlands and historic, protected farmlands that stretch as far as the eye can see.
The bluff is part of Ebey’s Landing National Historical Reserve, created in 1978 as the nation’s first Historical Reserve. The twenty-two square mile Reserve integrates historic farms, the seaside village of Coupeville, and two state parks. If you don’t mind a 250-foot elevation gain, park in the State Park lot by the beach, climb some stairs, and follow the path that skirts an agricultural field. This path connects with the Nature Conservancy’s Robert Y. Pratt preserve. If your knees can take another steeper (but shorter) climb, keep going! Unbelievably, the windswept views get even better and you feel like you’re walking along the edge of the world. You can either double back to revisit the bluff and farmland views, or take the fairly steep path descending to the beach for the trek back to the parking lot along the shore. The loop is approximately 3.5 miles long, but you can make it a shorter walk by doubling back instead.
The bluff trail can also be accessed from the Prairie Overlook near historic Sunnyside Cemetery, with an easy one mile walk across the fields to the Pratt Preserve junction. Or combine the two for a 5.6 mile unforgettable adventure.
Don’t miss nearby Coupeville and Fort Casey State Park. If you have some extra time, consider taking the ferry (near Fort Casey) directly to downtown Port Townsend.
GETTING THERE: From SR 20 turn South onto South Ebey Road (one block west of the main intersection at SR 20 and Coupeville’s Main Street). Follow S. Ebey Road for approximately 1.5 miles to the parking lot. (Discover Pass Required, but other nearby parking also available).
This updated article first appeared in the June 2012 issue of Northwest Prime Time