Friday, July 17, 2015

On the Delta: the Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge, Washington

When you visit Olympia, Washington, a great day's outing is to walk in the Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge. 
"Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge is located where the freshwater of the Nisqually River meets the saltwater of south Puget Sound, creating the Nisqually River Delta. The delta is a biologically-rich and diverse area that supports a variety of habitats including the estuary, freshwater wetlands and riparian woodlands. It is considered the last unspoiled major estuary in Puget Sound. The Nisqually Delta has been designated as a National Natural Landmark because of its national significance as one of the best examples of this kind of coastal salt marsh system remaining in the North Pacific.
Nisqually Refuge is famous for the more than 275 migratory bird species that use the refuge for migration, wintering, or breeding. The refuge provides rearing and migration habitat for steelhead trout and several salmon species, and habitat for a variety of threatened and endangered species. The Black River Unit, southwest of Olympia, provides high quality habitat for Coho and Chinook salmon, steelhead trout, migratory birds, and a diversity of other species." (from the US Fish and Wildlife Service).
The first European settlers came to the area in the 1830s. By the late 1830s, the economy began to shift from fur trading to farming and sheep-grazing. During the late-19th century, settlers throughout the Puget Sound area built dikes and drained river deltas. The soil in the former tidal marshland was rich and fertile, making excellent flat farmland. But as a consequence, estuarine habitats were lost, including much of the Nisqually River estuary.
The Fish and Wildlife Service is slowly removing some of the old dikes and allowing natural tidal flow to return to the creeks and channels. The photograph above, taken at low tide, shows pilings in one of the channels, possibly remains of weirs.
In 1904, a farmer, Alson Brown, and his wife bought 2,350 acres in the Nisqually delta. He built dikes and converted the fertile land to crop production and to chicken, hog, and cattle farming. After World War I, Brown went bankrupt, but subsequent owners raised the dikes and built the tall twin barns in 1932. This was during the Depression - how did they raise the funds?
The barns were damaged in the 2001 Nisqually Earthquake and have been closed since then. They are secured and in reasonably good condition, so the Fish and Wildlife Service has maintained them to some extent. On a sunny clear day, they are a nice photographic topic.
Let's briefly look at Olympia. 
 This is downtown Olympia from the west.
The state capitol was begun in 1890 but construction languished because of funding issues. The building was finally completed in 1928, during the easy-money years of the Roaring Twenties. At a height of 287 feet, the dome is said to be the fifth tallest masonry dome on earth, meaning a dome held up by its stone bearing walls without reinforcement.The US capitol in Washington is higher, at 302 ft, but it has a steel framework. The 2001 earthquake caused serious damage and required a $118 million renovation and internal reinforcement.

Trivia item: The Capitol has the largest collection of Tiffany lights in the world, some 438 units. Go see them. The chandelier above the rotunda weighs 10,000 lb and is suspended 50 feet above the floor. Serious lamp.
Washington State is a wonderful place to live if you like organic vegetables and fruits and locally-sourced ingredients (like Italy, Spain, or other civilized places with a real food culture). Apples and pears are local specialties. This photograph is from the farmers' market in downtown Olympia.

Camera notes: the square frames are from a Fujifilm X-E1 digital camera, with raw files processed in PhotoNinja software. A polarizing filter helped darken the sky on this amazingly clear and sunny February day. The long wide panoramic frames are from a Hasselblad XPan film camera (which was manufactured by Fuji). The XPan had a film opening of 72x24mm, or twice the width of a standard 35mm camera frame. A friend took me flying over the area in a cloth airplane of the type where you can swing open the window.

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