Tarlatt Slough

Kathy Freitas is at the “mud station” with fourth graders at Tarlatt Slough pointing out some sea snails. (As she says, “They were returned to the bay from where they were gathered. We really stress that wildlife refuges are all about protecting wildlife, so nothing we observe is removed from the refuge.”)

A couple of weeks ago Bob Duke tagged me in an email about the goings on at Willapa National Wildlife Refuge (WNWR). He sent a couple of his amazing drone shots of the Tarlatt Slough trail and restoration. (Just a note, folks — if you know of anything happening around town that you think might be of interest to others or something you’d like to toot your own horn, or someone else’s, about — drop me a line. I love getting tips about what’s going on in our neck of the woods.)

Anyway, Bob noted that “the South Bay Trail off 95th has undergone a major wetland restoration. This will be a great addition to the community. It will offer a fantastic, accessible, view of the South Willapa Bay. And education opportunities abound, as it is the location of our 4th Grade Environmental Education Program. Let me know what you think.” I thought it was great news and immediately got in touch with Friends of WNWR president Kathy Freitas to get more details.

Willapa Wildlife Refuge

Ironically, I dialed Kathy up from Pahranagat National Wildlife Refuge, a stunning oasis in the middle of the Mohave Desert in Nevada — https://www.fws.gov/refuge/Pahranagat/. (It’s another of our nation’s mostly hidden wildlife refuges, treasures which I’ll talk more about in coming weeks.) Kathy was as excited as Bob was. “There is a neat new viewpoint on the South Bay Trail at Tarlatt Slough,” she said. “We’ve taken down one of the dikes and restored the wetlands there. It still looks a little raw as the estuary habitat is changing from fresh to brackish water, but the plant life is thriving and there are lots of birds.”

“Originally, as I understand it, the thinking of the time was that the dike was meant to control the water and keep it out so that cattle could graze there. But some new thinking came in about that as the refuge acquired property there — so the idea was to restore it to its more natural state.”

Kids get muddy

The other great thing about this restoration effort is, as Bob mentioned, that it provides a place for environmental education which supplements the science curriculum that was developed for our elementary schools.

Kathy continued, “This education event is kind of a signature program of the Friends. We are almost 20 years old and this particular program started about six or seven years ago. There was some curriculum already written by a refuge visitor services person — I’m sorry I don’t know her name — but she created this wonderful curriculum that goes along with the Washington State science program for fourth graders. We took over the curriculum and now take kids from six schools in the county out to the slough to get dirty!”

“We include Naselle, South Bend, Raymond, and Willapa Valley — each school comes out for a day on the Tarlatt Slough Trail and they get to put into practice what they’ve been studying. And the kids are so smart!”

“We take a bio-walk through the habitat. We take samples of mud from the estuary and the other habitats and they look at things with kid-friendly microscopes at the ‘fresh water station.’ At the ‘mud station’ there are lots of little sea snails. It’s sort of like speed-dating — the kids move around in groups so they get to smell and touch everything.”

The Aha moment!

The delight of the visiting students may start slowly with some but it builds as the day goes on. “I can still remember one little girl, really quiet. We’d been walking around for four hours talking about how to observe. This little girl walked by a bunch of flowers and said to me, really excited, ‘Come here, Kathy, come and look!’ There was an almost microscopic little bug. It was an Aha! moment, and we all have these stories.”

“All the kids have journals donated by the Rotary that they can take notes in. Rose Power, one of our regular volunteers, once had a young man, the silent type. Well, at the end of the day Rose took a look at his journal and it was filled with the most beautiful drawings.”

“The construction of the new headquarters at Rikkala will begin this month. Then we’ll be working to raise money for a visitors’ and new environmental education center — that will be a huge capital campaign, maybe one million dollars or so. Obviously we’ll be applying for grants too. And the South Pacific County Community Foundation has been such a great help. It’s a big deal — and when we’re successful, then I hope we can expand our education program to include middle school and senior high students — we have so many knowledgeable retired people, I hope we can get enough volunteers to help.”

“You know, we’ve had teachers tell us that some of our local kids live in apartments, and they haven’t even been to a park! And there is benefit for us adults too. Besides being a place for the public to get a good perspective of the south bay and bringing another dimension to our environmental education program, having been out there with a group of adults on a birding hike, I know it will also be a wonderful setting for quiet contemplation or meditation. It’s the opposite of a forested area of quiet and darkness — sitting in this bright, wide-open space, watching the sedges and grasses blowing in waves by the slough, hearing the terns splash down in search of a morsel, and seeing graceful flocks of migratory birds soaring above, we’ve got yet another magical place on the Peninsula.”

If you’d like to contribute to the Friends’ efforts, you can do so at https://spccf.org.

Pacific County Immigrant Support

Another note in the “good news” department includes the recent email from Ann Reeves who is keeping us updated on the Pacific County Immigrant Support (PCIS) efforts. Their last event — Summer Salsa — was a huge success. Many locals and local organizations made generous donations of items for the silent auction; and, in keeping with the amazing spirit of our community, so many tossed checks and cash into the mix as well. A big thank you to all who helped. Over 130 people attended and $14,500 was raised! (Funds are used to assist families when their wage earner has been detained and to provide financial assistance for legal counsel and fees.)

Also, these efforts in our county garnered the notice of a nationally-read magazine. An article about the PCIS grassroots organization entitled “How the Disappearance of Immigrant Workers Created a Movement in a County That Voted for Trump” was featured in a recent edition of YES! magazine. As stated in the article, “This rural community might have agreed with Trump’s anti-immigration policies on paper. But it could not abide their neighbors being taken away.” (Read the article here: https://tinyurl.com/y46gcr44)

If you missed the recent fundraiser and want to help, here’s how: write or send a check to Pacific County Immigrant Support, PO Box 156, Long Beach, WA 98631; or peruse the website: http://www.pcisupport.org; or email for more information, info@pcisupport.org .

There’s still plenty to do to help our neighbors.

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