Undeniably breathtaking as it is, Willapa Bay today bears scant relationship to what it was in 1850. Thanks, however, to about two decades of muddy and expensive work, it's again getting closer.
From sediment washed down from clear-cut ancient forests, to more positive changes like the picturesque and economically vital commercial oyster business, our area's first pioneers would recognize little but the rough shape of the shoreline.
Matter of fact, even the shoreline is in doubt. Invasive spartina grass has steadily threatened to transform Willapa's magically productive tidelands into something else entirely - thousands of acres of bright green weed spreading across the mud like cholesterol choking the life from a beating heart.
When people first move here, it's not an uncommon reaction to think vast stands of grass might be prettier or somehow more natural than the empty plains of muck. But this is the difference between a lawn and a wilderness. Some people prefer lawns. Willapa Bay must never become one.
None of this is new information. Long-time residents have witnessed this slow-motion struggle between our bay and the East Coast grass that would love to smother it. Ample historical records testify to what Willapa was and what it was becoming. And for a good 20 years, a broad coalition of oystermen, environmentalists, concerned bystanders and others have been up to their elbows and knees in finding some way to heal Willapa.
It hasn't been easy.
For one thing, spartina isn't easy to eraticate. Merely mowing it is even less effective than mowing your lawn. Herbicides are strictly regulated by state and federal agencies and the most common one doesn't work quickly enough to kill spartina before the returning tide washes it away.
For another, the Toxics Coaltion of Washington and the somewhat more local Ad Hoc Coalition - comprised mostly of Moby Dick Hotel's Fritzi Cohen, her friends and employees - have waged a holy war against spraying. Although there isn't universal agreement on this, they aren't totally kooky. The annals of modern chemistry are filled with many examples of substances once licensed for human consumption that we now know to be injurious to our health and the environment.
Unfortunately, Cohen and her various allies have always approached the subject with something of the superior attitude of missionaries bringing the word of God to the heathen cannibals.
Unlike some Peninsula people who are only vaguely aware that Willapa Bay exists, the bay's traditional oystermen have a proven record of stewardship and concern for the place that provides their livelihood. They won't ever wreck it. The substances being used to fight back against spartina's assault are extremely well monitored and, in any case, are flushed out with the tide twice a day.
None of this will alter the implacable fight over spraying. But average readers shouldn't worry about spray in the bay or the quality of oysters it produces. Both are fine and the bay is finally on the mend, thanks to careful management. Nobody likes using herbicide, but the risk here is minimal and the cost of doing nothing is far too great.