Secrets lie in the salt marsh

View from Cypress Island NRCA. Photo Christ Thomsen/DNR
View from Cypress Island NRCA. Photo Christ Thomsen/DNR

Salt marshes are a vital part coastal habitats. When properly functioning, salt marshes provide habitat essential for healthy fisheries, coastlines, and plant and animal communities.

DNR’s Natural Areas Program is working to restore Secret Harbor’s salt marsh on the Cypress Island Natural Resources Conservation Area to bring back those natural functions that were damaged when the island was settled.

Salt marshes are coastal wetlands that are flooded and drained with salt water brought in by the tides. These intertidal habitats are essential for healthy fisheries, coastlines, and plant and animal communities.

History of Secret Harbor

About 10 years ago, DNR acquired the property from Secret Harbor School. Established in 1947, the school served as a nonprofit residential treatment center for teenagers. Secret Harbor School administrators determined the site was too costly and remote to continue education on the island.

A dike built to allow settlement of the island altered the natural function of the marsh, restricting tidal flow, draining the wetlands and filling the salt marsh. DNR began restoration of the site in 2008, and today Secret Harbor has a chance for a full, physical function of the salt marsh and tributary stream and wetland.

After demolition and cleanup of the former school site, restoration of the estuary and salt marsh began.

Restoration work was largely completed in the summer of 2014, with additional native plantings scheduled this year.

As part of the restoration, DNR removed creosote-treated pilings around the island, within the Cypress Island Aquatic Reserve that rings the island. Removing creosote pilings from our waterways keeps toxins away from the fish and wildlife that rely on aquatic habitats.

Now it’s up to nature to do its work. After the plants become established, the salt marsh will, once again, function naturally.

DNR’s Natural Areas Program conserves nearly 152,000 acres of lands and features in designated natural area preserves and natural resources conservation areas, protecting the highest-quality examples of natural Washington and providing opportunities for research, environmental education and low-impact recreation.

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