Sometimes we just take things for granted on the North Beach. Like land forms… We just get so busy admiring the lushness of this year’s incredible foliage and flowers that we forget they are attached to land.
One little piece of land that has always been a place to get away from tourists and ruminate over various topics has been the Oyehut Wildlife Refuge at the tip of Ocean Shores. Affectionately called “The Sink” by old beachers, it offers a world apart.
When exploration of Point Brown waters first occurred, the western side of the sink was all underwater. Sticking out of the spillover waves from the bar was a little island—Eld Island—named after a cabin boy aboard Commander Wilkes’ vessel. He wasn’t anyone famous, kinda like most of the beachers. But, out of kindness, Wilkes put his name down on ship charts for posterity.
Changeable Point Brown
Point Brown has always been a dynamic, changeable land, sometimes covered by water, sometimes dry. The land was so unstable, even after it had filled in from the sand deposition following the construction of the North Jetty, the first developers of Ocean Shores designated most of the land southwest of Marine View Drive as an ocean park—fit only for camping and enjoying laid back family activities.
The Bank of California, after obtaining the development, ‘Calfornized’ the land to high end, ocean view property. But the original developers were quite right — every once in a while Ma Nature sent a bunch of water over that part of the peninsula.
What’s in a name?
Another Agency was correct in its use of the land when it designated The Sink as “Oyehut State Wildlife Recreation Area,” even if the state in its wisdom decided to change the native Oyehut to Oyhut, much to the disgust of the beachers who thought if the state was fair it would at least call Hoquiam by its nomenclature “ho-key-um.” Until fancy modern communications came along. many folks tromped out through the sand dunes, salal and buck brush to show off the Ventron tower to their visitors, bragging about its importance to SeaTac air traffic.
In 2012, the area was designated as critical habitat for the threatened western snowy plover that forage in tide lands and nest on the upper beach. It is a place well-loved by the myriad duck species who like to nest close to water for the spring ducklings swimming lessons. Lou Messner, Grays Harbor’s beloved, botany guru, has a special spot in his heart for the duck nursery.
The influx of tourists and new comers into the area often think it is a great place to run their dogs off lease, but, while the dogs may have a field day, the ducks are being pushed into unsuitable nesting habitat. Messner knows all about habitat, especially in The Sink, where he, in past years, cataloged the wonderful collection of vascular and non-vascular plants of the saltwater environment.
The state Department of Natural Resources, which is building a safe sanctuary for the threatened streaked horned larks on the tip of Damon, know The Sink, with its low-growing vegetation and open landscape, also attracts the birds.
The Sink, whose salt water ebbs and flows with the tide, makes an ideal, quiet place for migrating birds. It is a part of the Harbor’s 94 square-mile estuary whose open waters, salt marshes and mudflats provide critical habitat for shorebirds as part of the one-in-four major staging areas on the North American Pacific coastline that hosts one of the largest concentrations of shorebirds south of Alaska.
Shares fancy titles
As a part of the estuary, it shares some pretty fancy titles. In 1996 it was designated as a Western Hemisphere Shorebird Reserve Network Site of Hemispheric Significance in the Pacific Flyway and a Washington Important Bird Area. That mouthful means it must support over 500,000 shorebirds during the year.
An often forgotten part of The Sink located in Ocean Shores is that it is a part of the Usual and Accustomed Area of the Quinault Indian Nation. The various aspects of The Sink contribute to the designation of an Aquatic Resource of National Importance of the clean Water Act.
While many think the original designation of Oyehut Wildlife Refuge was due to the long-established duck and goose hunting on Point Brown, a refuge designation means it is land set aside specifically to conserve wildlife and to protect ecosystems.
Fondly remembered contributors
Thinking of seas and estuaries makes one remember Fred Koontz with his knowledge of the sea. His joy of life and life forms makes everyone on the beach smile but grieve over his sudden passing.
Two other people who contributed to life in Ocean Shores that will be missed are June and Chuck Bilow. Her fiery nature and Chuck’s slow, methodical ways in many community events and his contributions of carpentry skills to benefit the city will long be remembered.
Early berries and bloomers
Can you believe the red huckleberries this year? So early, but they are big, juicy and just loading down the branches of the bushes. Red elderberries hang in huge clusters from the branches. Even little wild blackberries can be found in some clear-cuts and July 4th hasn’t even arrived yet.
Now the fireweed is vying for attention with their five- and six-foot stalks of digitalis sporting lavender, deep purple and white blossoms. Early, too, is the goldenrod blazing like Tiki torches along the highway.
Four-footed and flippered friends
Baby raccoons are making their first appearances outside of drain pipes, and other hidey holes. The red fox is sliding through the brush in Ocean Shores and there are some awesome black bear around the Humptulips delta.
Out off of Bill’s Spit, some mornings the beach is nearly white with baby seals. The Damon Point momma brings her baby to rest on shore between 2 and 3 in the afternoon. Most folks visiting the beach are quite respectful of the little guy, even though they don’t know the Seal Angel is taking up her post on shore to monitor people and dog behavior for the little guy.
Bank fishing slow
Not as much fishing going on off banks and docks as usual. Could it be the weather is too good? The balmy days of June are such an unusual event, all the sand pounders are having a hard time finding enough to gripe about over their coffee at the local restaurants. They may as well quit talking politics instead of weather, load the family dog, the wife, and themselves into the car and head for their own favorite piece of land on the North Beach, roll down the windows and take time to smell the flowers.