Public access to the Woodard Bay Natural Resources Conservation Area in Olympia will be extremely limited this summer.
The state Department of Natural Resources is planning to upgrade some of the area’s facilities and interpretive sites. As a result, the agency will close the Whitham Road access point from July through December.
There will still be some public access, but not what people are used to. The Woodard Bay Upper Overlook Trail — closed to protect nesting herons — will reopen in August, giving visitors access to views of the bay. The Overlook Trail will be accessible from the parking lot at the north end of the Chehalis Western Trail.
The rest of the site will be closed to protect the public’s safety during the construction.
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“This is a really exciting project,” Michele Zukerberg, natural areas manager overseeing the development project, said in a release. “It is carefully designed to balance the ecological values of Woodard Bay with its rich human history.”
The updated interpretative design will highlight the ecological values and cultural history of Woodard Bay.
This closure is the final phase of a larger effort to restore and improve the area. Already more than 2,100 tons of creosote-treated structures and 12,000 cubic yards of fill have been removed from Woodard Bay and Henderson Inlet.
The next phase includes four major features:
• A new environmental and cultural learning shelter. It will be like a picnic shelter, but large enough to accommodate classes and groups should they want to get out of the rain or sunshine.
• An expanded parking lot and a new bike shelter to accommodate bike parking, since bicycle use is not allowed in the area. Parking will be expanded from six spots to 13-15. “We still want to manage the experience, so the area is not overwhelmed with people,” said Jessica Rayne, communications coordinator for the department.
• Relocation of the current “boom foreman’s” office and bathroom to cluster structures away from the shoreline.
• Installation of several educational interpretive areas and signs.
The project is supported by the Washington Recreation and Conservation Office Aquatic Lands Enhancement Account, the Washington Wildlife and Recreation Program, and the Squaxin Island Tribe.
All the work is being done by local contractors.
“They bid on the project because they live near the area and have such a passion for it,” Payne said. “They didn’t want someone from out of state coming in and working on an area so important to them.”
The Conservation Area was designated by the Legislature in 1987, one of the first in the state. Just minutes from downtown Olympia, the 865-acre site protects habitat from marine shoreline and wetlands to mature second-growth forest. The site’s human history includes use by Native Americans, early settlers to southern Puget Sound and the logging and shellfish industries.